Have Tibet protesters gone too far?

Here’s an unpopular thought: how far should Free Tibet protesters be allowed to go? Should they, for example, have the right to clamp down on free speech in order to prevent their case being challenged?

Don’t get me wrong here. I believe Tibet ought to be free, and I believe that China should face up to world opinion. But that is not a blank cheque for protesters.

Here’s the story. According to PR Week, “Any PR agency that works for the Chinese government runs the risk of demonstrations outside its offices, campaigners have warned”. Apparently the Free Tibet Campaign has issued a warning, saying “Any PR agency that is trying to assist China in its twisted distortion of the truth would be potentially exposing itself to our protests outside its offices”.

If this really is true, and if this really what they meant, then I think that the Free Tibet Campaign has established that it is really not so different from the Chinese government it opposes. I sincerely hope that this is not what they meant.

In a free society, everyone must have the freedom to make their case to the media, to other people, and to opinion formers. Hiring a PR agency to help you make that case is legal, and it should remain so. There are lots of people, organisations and groups out there that I don’t agree with. But, in a free society, I must defend their right to make their case. As soon as I decide that one case is too heinous to be presented, then I have moved from being a free-speaker in a free-society, to a totalitarian advocating that only views which chime with my own should be expressed.

Twenty or so years ago, everybody thought that Robert Mugabe was marvellous, for the peaceful transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. Events have shown that Mugabe was never interested in justice and fairness, but only in the promotion of his own interests and those of his own followers. This is by total contrast with the work of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

I hope that China eventually gets the message that freeing Tibet is in its own interests — and, even more, that ceasing to support atrocities in Sudan is a must-do if it is to play a full role in the international community. But I hope also that the Free Tibet Campaign learns that making threats against free speech is neither helpful to their cause, nor appropriate to the society in which we, here in Britain, live.

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