Free speech is in danger unless people speak up to defend figures such as JK Rowling, according to former Tory cabinet minister Dr Liam Fox.
In July last year, she drew criticism after describing hormones and surgery for transgender people as “a new kind of conversion therapy”.
In a speech to the Adam Smith Institute, a generally conservative-leaning think tank, Dr Liam Fox said that technologies like social media posed a threat to the freedom of speech, and said it must be addressed by the government and wider societies.
Talking specifically about the criticism JK Rowling received, Dr Fox said: “The sinister part was that it was not a counter-attack or riposte to the views she had posted but an attempt to delegitimise her and thus her intervention.
“All of us, from whatever part of the political spectrum, must unite in making it abundantly clear that she is, absolutely, entitled to her views and to express them.
“Keeping our heads below the parapet can only result in more victims.”
He also said that he feels “guilty” for not defending the likes of Jo Brand, who joked about throwing acid on Nigel Farage, and Davina McCall, who drew controversy last weekend for suggesting the response to the killing of Sarah Everard was “fear mongering”.
Dr Fox had earlier written that freedom of speech was “essential to the full development of each individual and the precondition to enjoying a wider set of rights, from freedom of assembly to the freedom of the press”.
He continued: “An effective democratic society depends on voters developing informed opinions from free and open debate, and exercising their choices unhindered at the ballot box.
“A free press is a means of underpinning other human rights through the ability to expose abuses and persecution.”
Dr Fox, a former trade minister, called on the government – as well as the wider public – to defend freedom of speech, saying a failure to do so risked “the trampling of our values and one person fewer in the defensive line between ourselves and the mob”.