Between hate speech and freedom of expression

Few weeks ago, the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, declared that henceforth, the Federal Government of Nigeria will classify hate speech as specie of Terrorism and offenders will be charged under the Terrorism Prevention Act, as amended.

The Vice President, who is also a Professor of law stated that, Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended defines ‘’terrorism as an act deliberately done with malice, which may seriously harm a country or is intended or can be reasonably regarded as having been done to seriously intimidate a population’’ and for this reason, hate speech is considered an act of terrorism.

Since this declaration was made weeks ago, the debate about what constitute hate speech, particularly on social media has become the new national discuss.

While some people are claiming that the classification of hate speech as act of terrorism infringe on the rights of citizens to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution, others including this writer hold the view that, hate speech is not free speech and its criminalization has not in anyway, infringe on citizens right to freedom of expression. Instead, we are of the view that, criminalization of hate speech is more like holding citizens accountable to their freely expressed views, thereby encouraging responsibility in expression.

It is therefore important to explore the concept of hate speech, as it relates to the freedom of expression and determine whether or not, the criminalization of hate speech constitute an infringement on free speech.

My understanding as a peace professional is that, hate speech is an act of emotional terrorism, done with the intention of injuring, damaging or inciting a person or group of persons. Or better still, we can see hate speech as anti peace advocacy or an act to cause mass disruption of personal emotional peace. It can aptly be described as an act of violence against the mind with the intention of instigation or subduction.

ARTICLE 19, a global organization working to ensure people everywhere can express themselves freely define hate speech as the advocacy of hatred based on nationality, race or religion.

In a publication titled ‘’hate speech’’ by article 19, the organization stated that generally speaking, the right to freedom of expression extends to unpopular ideas and statements which “shock, offend or disturb” and a number of human rights treaties, including the ICCPR, not only permit states to prohibit hate speech, but actually require them to do so.

In other word, prohibiting hate speech is not only permissible by several international human right treaties, it is actually a requirement. All multi racial, multi ethnic and multi religious countries seeking to build or sustain peace must as a matter of necessity have regulations to check hate speech. Faily to do this will cost the nation more, not only in term of resources, but also human, as hate advocacy will hinder reasonable collaboration between citizens from different groups due to inherent suspicion and quest to guard themselves from emotional violence and disappointment.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established by UN in 1994 elaborated somewhat on the definition of the crime of hate speech is all about. In The Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza, & Ngeze, it stated that the defendant’s intent must be established, and that “[t]he actual language used in the media has often been cited as an indicator of intent.” However, it is not necessary to show “any specific causation linking the expression at issue with the demonstration of a direct effect.”Article 19 said

Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech.

Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

Article 20(2) does not require states to prohibit all negative statements towards national groups, races or religions but, as soon as a statement “constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” it must be banned. Article 19 publication said

By this regulation, citizen’s consciousness will be raised and UN-intentional hate speeches, or hate speeches made unconsciously will be considerably reduced, and those who made them can quickly retract their statements.

Regarding the claim that regulation on hate speech violates citizens right to freedom of expression, Article 19 went further to state that, the UNHRC has stated that there is no contradiction between the duty to adopt domestic legislation under Article 20(2) and the right to freedom of expression, In the opinion of the Committee, these required prohibitions are fully compatible with the right of freedom of expression as contained in article 19, the exercise of which carries with it special duties and responsibilities.

Other critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented.

But this is not close to the truth. Hate speech is distinctly different from policy criticism. Criticism of policy can not be classified as an incitement against any particular group on the basis of tribe, region or religion, neither can it incite people to cause genocide.

In a detailed submission on wikipedia, hate speech regulations is said to be divided into two types: those which are designed for public order and those which are designed to protect human dignity. Those designed to protect public order require a higher threshold to be violated, so they are not specifically enforced frequently. For example, in Northern Ireland, as of 1992 only one person was prosecuted for violating the regulation in twenty one years. Those meant to protect human dignity have a much lower threshold to be violated, so those in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands seem to be frequently enforced. (Wikipedia) As Nigeria take the giant step to ensure sanity in its polity by taking steps to hold every citizen accountable to their freely expressed speeches, we should understand that this it is not the first to do so. Many countries have enacted law against hate speech. Belgium did so in 1981, Brazil in 1988, Canada in 1990. France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Denmark, Finland and host of others have also done so. In Canada for example, someone found guilty of hate speech may get as much as 5 year’s imprisonment.

Finally, every nation that wants to develop first say good things about itself. if Nigerians truly want peace and development as many claim they do, we must be responsible in our speeches, as this is the first sign that signify readiness for growth. No nation grows by consistently advocating hatred against itself

– Hamzat, the Executive Director of Foundation for Peace Professionals.



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