Fears are rising that comedians could face prison for their material after two men were jailed for making offensive comments online.
Azhar Ahmed has today been ordered to do 240 hours of community service after tweeting ‘all soldiers should die and go to hell’
And yesterday a teenager who posted ‘abhorrent’ jokes on Facebook about missing April Jones was jailed for 12 weeks.
The cases raising questions about freedom of speech that could lead to comedians becoming criminals if their material is deemed to have caused offense.
Matthew Woods, 19, from Chorley, Lancashire, said he had been inspired to make the comments about April Jones by the sick joke website Sickipedia.
One of his posts was: ‘Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?’ – while others are said to have involved sexually explicit nature about five-year-old April.
The chairman of the bench at Chorley magistrates court, Bill Hudson, said Woods's comments were so serious that he deserved the longest sentence they could pass, less a third to acknowledge his early guilty plea.
Unemployed Woods also made sick jokes about Madeleine McCann, which has become something of a staple topic among certain comedians.
Indeed, Frankie Boyle recently attracted flak for posting on Twitter: ‘Jimmy Savile did an incredible amount of charity work towards the end of his life, just to be sure he could shag Madeleine McCann in heaven.’
In Woods’ case, Hudson concluded: ‘We have listened to the evidence in what can only be described as a disgusting and despicable crime and the bench finds was completely abhorrent.
‘The words and references used to the current case in Wales and that of the missing girl in Portugal are nothing less than shocking, so much so that no right-thinking person in society should have communicated to them such fear and distress.’
Woods is said to have ‘smirked’ as he was led from the dock after being sentenced for was sending a message or other matter that is grossly offensive by means of a public electronic communications network.
It is the same offence Ahmed was found guilty of, after posting his message two days after six British soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. District Judge Jane Goodwin told him: ‘You knew at the time that this was an emotive and sensitive issue.With freedom of speech comes responsibility. On March 8 you failed to live up to that responsibility.’
Paul Chambers, successfully overturned a conviction for saying he would blow Robin Hood airport when it closed after heavy snow, tweeted: ‘Glad all that fighting wasn't for nothing.’
Sikipedia, which features racist, sexist and offensive gags, has been down today, with visitors being greeted with a message saying its software is being updated.