PETALING JAYA: It is time that Malaysia enact laws that deal directly with hate speech, particularly those that touch on racial and religious harmony, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa.
"It is high time the government introduces hate speech law because the rise of hatred between race and religion is now a common issue, especially if we look into what is said on social media," Mujahid said when contacted by The Star.
On Sunday (Aug 25), The Star published an article discussing whether Malaysia should adopt a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses all issues relating to hate speech, particularly in light of current controversies relating to race and religious sensitivities, and the widespread dissemination of provocative statements online.
Among the issues sparking inciteful discourse on social media of late, concern Dong Zong, controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik and the Bangi road rage case.
Although Mujahid acknowledges that the Penal Code can be used to address situations of incitement, he nevertheless emphasised that Malaysia requires a special law that should be the framework of governing hate speech.
Mujahid, who was chairman of law and policy in the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), said that during Barisan National’s time, there were attempts to introduce such a law in the National Reconciliation and Harmony Bill.
“We have made the proposal, we even made consultations with the public, interactions with political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to introduce the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill but then our proposal did not make it.
"When the new government took over, I personally feel that the new government should take the task in order for us to bring that Bill forward,” he said.
He said that after discussions, it was agreed that a hate speech element will be included in amendments to the Sedition Act.
“What remains is the (establishment of the) Commission of National Harmony and Reconciliation. This commission will play the role of proactively educating, propagating (harmony) and mediate racial or religious sentiment,” he said.
Mujahid hopes that by this year, the commission will be established and a hate speech element inserted within the Sedition Act.
“There are many laws used but in terms of race relations and religious hatred, there needs to be specific amendments to address the problem individually rather than looking into laws which cover a bigger scope,” he said.
Mujahid explained that there should be a clear definition of what amounts to hate speech in order to clearly distinguish it from an individual’s freedom of speech.
“Freedom of speech is always guaranteed but within it, there should be freedom with responsibility. Any form of freedom which has been misused or abused for any contribution of hate and which deteriorates race and religious harmony, could be considered an abuse of that freedom,” he said.
He added that any law on hate speech must be drafted in such as way that the standard of accusation is high, and the definition of what is hate speech clearly outlined to avoid any potential misuse or abuse of the law.
Last year, three Bills spearheaded by Mujahid were proposed to curb racial and religious hate in the country - the Anti-Discrimination Bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.
Under these three laws, instigators of racial and religious hate could face a jail sentence of up to seven years or a fine of RM100,000.
In April, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of National Unity and Social Well-being P. Waytha Moorthy said the government will consider setting up a National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission instead of the earlier proposal to table the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill as the drafts of the two Bills had overlapped with existing laws.
Waytha added that the suggested provisions can be amended into the Penal Code.
At present, many separate laws are used to regulate such behaviour.
Among them are Section 503 to 505 of the Penal Code, the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).
However, critics argue that these laws can be wide-ranging or archaic, and need to either be amended or abolished.
In January, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the government was studying six security laws with the view of either amending or repealing them. Among the six include the Sedition Act.