Australia Defamation Case Signals a Crackdown on Ordinary Citizens, Critics Say

Australia's defense minister on Wednesday won a defamation case over a six-word tweet that called him a "rape apologist." From a report: Critics and experts said the court case exemplified the conservative government's heavy-handed approach toward regulating damaging commentary on social media -- what Prime Minister Scott Morrison called "a coward's palace." The case also represented a troubling shift as politicians bring more lawsuits against ordinary citizens, they said. The dispute began when Shane Bazzi, an advocate for refugees who has 13,000 Twitter followers, wrote a Twitter post in February about Peter Dutton, then the country's home affairs minister and now the defense minister. "Peter Dutton is a rape apologist," the tweet said, and linked to an article about comments Mr. Dutton had made that women seeking asylum in Australia used rape claims as an excuse to enter the country. The post was published on the same day that Mr. Dutton also used the phrase "she said, he said" in reference to explosive accusations by Brittany Higgins, a former government staff member, who said she had been sexually assaulted in Australia's Parliament House. Mr. Dutton began defamation proceedings soon after, saying that the post had "deeply offended" him and had wrongly suggested he condoned and excused rape. Mr Bazzi's blue Twitter check mark, Mr. Dutton also argued, implied recognition by the social media giant and had led the minister to believe that the post was not just the "rant of somebody randomly on Twitter."

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