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Hate speech laws must not be open to abuse

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Hakam welcomes the government’s attempt to curb hate speech.

While there are existing provisions which deal with hate speech, we need to examine whether there is a need to buttress those laws or to enact new ones.

Hakam believes that any laws – existing or new – which deal with hate speech must not be allowed to be open to abuse. In particular, there is a need to define clearly and specifically what constitutes “hate speech”. On top of that, safeguards must be put in place to ensure such laws are not open to arbitrary action. In this respect, there must be wide consultation and engagement with the citizenry.

Hakam also urges the government to revisit the three bills drafted by the National Unity and Consultative Council in 2015 which were designed with similar objectives, namely the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill, the National Harmony and Recon­ciliation Bill, and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill.

With regard to the suggestion that such laws be extraterritorial, we must bear in mind that there will be several issues which must be taken into account such as difficulties in enforcement and the dichotomy that such speeches may be permissible in the country where the comment originates. These must all be carefully thought through. For the moment, Hakam is not in favour of hate speech laws being extraterritorial in nature.

Lim Wei Jiet is secretary-general of Hakam. This statement was released on behalf of the Hakam executive committee.

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