Law on hate speech needed

PETALING JAYA: There is a need for a specific legislation to regulate hate speech offences in Malaysia, said NGOs.

Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) senior vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said although there were general provisions addressing certain elements of hate speech, there was no specific law to regulate it.

“For example, Section 298A of the Penal Code says that it is a crime to incite disharmony, disunity and enmity on the grounds of religion. An amendment was later made to include ‘racial feelings’ under the section.

“Malaysia should emulate other countries which have introduced specific laws to tackle such issues, ” he said in a statement yesterday.

The United Kingdom for instance has the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which makes it an offence to incite hatred against a person on the grounds of religion, he said, adding that it should be introduced to properly and comprehensively deal with hate speech.

The law must be unambiguous and its scope must be clearly spelt out and it must also ensure that free speech is constructive and should acknowledge minority race, religion and gender, he added.

“The judiciary and the government need to recognise that hate speech not only creates racial tension but is also detrimental to the stability and harmony of the nation, ” he said.

Lee said all parties must stop with the expression “has a tendency” to cause ill will, hatred, disaffection or discontent.

His statement followed the speech by Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah during the Maal Hijrah celebration on Sunday, a day after the nation marked 62 years of Independence, which warned Malaysians to stop hate speech.

Malaysian Bar president Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said it was not necessary to have new laws to deal with hate speech here and the provisions could be added to the Penal Code.

“Currently, we have the Sedition Act as well as certain Sections of the Penal Code that people would be subjected to if they are investigated for hate speech. But we want the Sedition Act repealed so that leaves us with the Penal Code, ” he said.

Asked if emulating the United Kingdom’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 would be a good step for Malaysia, Abdul Fareed said it needed to be studied first.

“If there is a plan to legislate it then it is good but the provisions need to be studied first and not necessarily copied as a whole, ” he said.

Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Prof Datuk

Dr Denison Jayasooria said that Malaysia was a multi ethnic, religious, and cultural society and its various ideas and views should be appreciated and utilised as a competitive edge among our neighbours, including India and China.

“But when ideas and views cause tension in society, those propagating them should be held accountable, ” he said.

Denison said it had been more than a year since Pakatan Harapan took office and they had not moved forward with its proposal for a National Reconciliation and Harmony Bill which includes holding people accountable for hate speech.

He said the National Unity Consultative Council report, in which he was part of the secretariat, had proposed that the Bill replace the Sedition Act.

“People are unhappy because disinformation had been spread and no opportunity was given to counter allegations in open discussions.

“Preachers, religious or ethnic based NGOs or political parties have ‘championed’ race and religion by making various accusations towards other races and faiths but there was opportunity for rebuttal, ” he said.He said there was a need to strengthen mediation for conflict resolution and he suggested that an institutional mechanism be created to mediate public complaint and hold instigators accountable.

Denison said the government should also create a space for public discussions rather than allowing too much emotive speeches.

President of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism Archbishop Julian Leow said that clear and inclusive language to build and nurture our fragmented nation was needed.

“Malaysia needs sensible voices to drown out hate speech in our beloved country. We need to replace suspicion and fear of each other with respect and understanding, ” he said, adding that people should celebrate its strength of unity in diversity.

“We cannot see everything through the lens of race and religion. We cannot afford to be divided as a nation. United we stand, divided we fall.”

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