Should “hate speech” be free?

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Recent events in the US have not only shown clearly the disturbing levels of hatred espoused by those following neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideologies, but they have also shown the power of challenging such views, and highlighted the issues around ‘hate speech’ and freedom of expression. 

Our latest Q&A looks at how to challenge hateful and discriminatory expression, while protecting free expression and promoting equality.

 

Can the right to freedom of speech be limited? If so, what limits are allowed?

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right – crucial not only to how we express and exchange ideas – but to the very functioning of democracies. It is how we learn what our governments are doing, and how we exercise dissent and demand accountability.

Because freedom of speech is so important, any limits on it have to be exceptional, clearly defined, and justified. International human rights law doesn’t just draw a line around what can and cannot be said, but sets out strict criteria which States must adhere to in order to justify any measures they take to restrict speech.

These requirements are often called “the three-part test”. Any restriction must be:

  1.  Clearly set out in an accessible law;
  2. Pursue one of a few narrowly defined objectives (such as protecting the rights of others, for public order or national security); and
  3. Be necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.

Within this, for example, direct threats of violence may be prohibited in order to protect public order.

Similar limitations apply to the freedom to peacefully assemble. It is permissible, for example, for a government to prohibit the carrying of weapons during an assembly, to both ensure public order and the rights of others to peacefully engage in proximate counter-protests.

At the same time, international human rights law recognises that certain categories of speech can be so harmful that prohibitions may be mandatory. This includes, for example, the advocacy of discriminatory hatred to incite discrimination or violence. Assemblies that have incitement as their aim may similarly be restricted.

However, limiting speech solely because it is critical of the government, or because some people find it offensive, is never justified.

What is the definition of ‘intolerance’ and ‘hate speech’?

There are no universally agreed legal definitions of “intolerance” or “hate speech”.

“Intolerance” and “hate speech” are very broad terms – they can be used to describe any discriminatory expression that denies the humanity of others or incites harm against a particular group. Such speech undeniably has a negative impact on societies, in particular for minority and marginalised groups.

International human rights law is clear that expression cannot be limited solely on the basis that it is offensive or insulting, and this includes speech that may be hateful. However, governments are required to limit speech where it is so clearly dangerous that limitations are the only way to prevent serious harms from occurring. These types of speech may be understood as the most severe forms of “intolerance” or “hatred”, namely the advocacy of discriminatory hatred, intended and likely to incite violence or discrimination. Restricting direct threats of discriminatory violence, may similarly be restricted.

Generally speaking, national governments define these terms in their own laws, which is why approaches vary so greatly between countries. Confusion has led to many laws being enacted that do not comply with international human rights law.

ARTICLE 19 observes two main problems with “hate speech” laws as governments define them. On the one hand, we see powerful individuals inciting or threatening violence with impunity where they should be held accountable. On the other hand, we commonly see these laws abused to target legitimate dissent in many parts of the world, when such speech should be protected.

If racists aren’t allowed to speak freely, how can societies fight back against their ideologies? Is it better to allow them to speak out so that their ideas can be challenged?

Yes – ARTICLE 19 believes that more, counter speech is definitely the best response to “hate speech.”

Since hatred is rooted in fear and in ignorance, and peddled through propaganda and disinformation, it is only by countering this with solidarity for the oppressed and with informed and accurate argument, that equality and justice can win out.

But this isn’t the only reason. Before rushing to advocate greater controls on expression, we should consider the unintended consequences of giving the government too much power to control what we can and cannot say. It is only in the most extreme cases, where a person intends to incite harm and that harm is likely to occur, that limiting speech may be necessary.

Once censorship powers broader than this are created, they are difficult to roll back and can easily get into the wrong hands. For example, a racist demagogue could rise to power and turn these laws against advocates for equality and justice. It is then easier for them to entrench their power to see off any form of opposition, and commit other human rights violations.

Even where only the most serious forms of “hate speech” are prosecuted, censorship can prove ineffective at addressing the root causes of hatred and counter-productive to the aim of promoting inclusion and equality. There is little evidence that censorship, in particular criminal prosecutions, changes hearts and minds, whereas education, combined with a range of positive measures seeking to break down barriers between groups does. Rather, censorship may be used by hate-mongers to feed their paranoid conspiracy theories as their movements go underground, while prosecutions may elevate racists from the fringe to greater prominence by turning them into martyrs for their “cause”.

It is important to remember that the true cause of racists and fascists is not “freedom of speech”, no matter how often they might claim that it is.

Fascists are often the first to respond with violence to their ideas being challenged, and when in power to react to dissent with censorship. The weakness of their arguments is why in Charlottesville they brought guns and other weapons to a battle of ideas; the intimidatory tactic these groups trade in is censorship, not free speech. Free speech has never meant an obligation for one group to acquiesce to ideas another imposes by force, in particular where that means staying passive in the face of bigotry and hate. Free speech requires one to expect that when one’s ideas are vile, others will shout back louder and with greater moral force and clarity and win the argument.

It is incumbent on all people, but most importantly political leaders and other influential figures, to firmly denounce racism and hatred, and speak out for those who are oppressed and marginalised. It is entirely coherent to do this while defending free speech.

What is the role of a free press when it comes to supremacist demonstrations? Should journalists provide an equal platform to let everyone defend their ideas?

The media are among those who have a special responsibility to ensure the public is informed on matters of current affairs, and to use their privileged position in the information landscape to challenge discrimination and promote equality. In order to play this role, the press needs to be free and able to operate independently in an environment that favours the development of pluralistic and diverse media landscapes.

It is not the role or obligation of a journalist to simply convey all views they encounter, for example by giving an uninterrupted platform for persons to advocate hatred without challenge. At the same time, issues around racism and other forms of discrimination are clearly matters that are in the public interest to be openly debated, and which the public has a right to know about.

Journalism is a profession that is informed by robust rules of ethics. Professional standards guide journalists on how to approach difficult questions around racism and incitement to violence in the course of reporting on current events.

Journalists must not become passive intermediaries. They have a role to play in avoiding drawing false equivalencies between opposing views; they should inform the public where one side of an argument is based on deliberate lies, and when another is based in evidence and experience. They ought therefore play an active role in determining that the public receives timely and accurate information on matters in the public interest. It requires determining whether a hateful viewpoint is newsworthy at all, and whether covering such fringe groups risks elevating their status. If it is newsworthy, it means ensuring that when proponents of hate spout lies, that these are contested with facts (there can be no “alternative facts”), and that when hateful stereotypes are peddled, they are countered with the voices of marginalized groups whom the hatemongers seek to disparage.

Unfortunately, this is too often not the reality. Sensationalism is often favoured over accuracy and impartiality, and marginalized groups are widely denied any meaningful opportunity to speak for themselves on outlets with the largest audiences. This can often be a product of a media sector lacking diversity, media ownership being monopolized or concentrated among a privileged few, and increasing economic strains in a changing media landscape. This is why it is important that governments support independent media, and promote policies that promote pluralism and equality in the media sector.

Lastly, in the digital age we are all more easily publishers of content if we chose to be, and can in our own ways fulfill the function of journalists through the various social media and blogging platforms we use. We should therefore all become more active as consumers and producers in the media landscape, and recognize our own responsibilities to challenge hatred wherever it exists and promote equality.

Source : Article 19

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China Tells Women to ‘Go Home and Live Well’

Beijing Urging Women to Quit Their Jobs, Focus on Family

Sophie Richardson

China Director

On August 21, Chinese women’s rights activist Wu Rongrong went to a police station in Shanxi province to check on her application for a travel permit to Hong Kong, where she has been accepted to graduate school. Police denied her application because Wu—one of the “Feminist Five”—was detained in March 2015 for her role in a campaign against sexual harassment. Adding insult to injury, an officer told her, “Don’t continue to go to school. What’s the point? Go home and live well.”

Poster hung in the Beijing marriage registration office reading, “Being a good housewife and good mother are women’s biggest achievements.”

© screenshot from Weibo

Despite claims to gender equality, Chinese authorities are sending that same “go home” message to women across the country. Continue reading……

US: Trump Threatening to Expel ‘Dreamers’

Repealing DACA Would Harm Thousands With Close US Ties

201708us_daca_presserA woman carries a sign supporting immigrants during a rally demanding the Trump administration protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2017

© 2017 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – US President Donald Trump’s threatened repeal of a program protecting from deportation immigrants who arrived in the United States as children would harm hundreds of thousands of people with strong ties to the US, Human Rights Watch said today. Based on media reports, Trump would protect the “Dreamers,” those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in exchange for congressional support for the RAISE Act, which would drastically reduce legal immigration to the US, as well as increased funding for the border wall and detention centers.

“Trump’s repeal of DACA would expose hundreds of thousands of people to deportation by a cruel and unjust immigration system that fails to take into account their deep ties to the US,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Using the ‘Dreamers’ as political pawns for drastic cuts in legal immigration and increased detention undercuts Trump’s promise to treat them ‘with heart.’”

The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012, in response to repeated failures by Congress to create a permanent path to legal status for people who came to the US as children. Many have lived in the US almost their entire lives, have gone to school here, and have US citizen spouses and children. Typically, the US is the only country they consider home. Over 750,000 have received DACA status and an estimated 1.1 million are eligible. Continue reading…….

 

No Way to Treat Children Fleeing Danger

Published in Harvard International Review

Michael Garcia Bochenek

Senior Counsel, Children’s Rights Division

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Refugee children take part in a protest in March 2015 against their resettlement on Nauru and living conditions on the island.

© 2016 Private

Migrant children might soon be separated from their parents as a matter of course when families enter the United States irregularly, Homeland Security  Secretary John Kelly told CNN in early March. Under the proposal, which another Homeland Security official described as among the options the department is considering to discourage(others)from even beginning the journey”,separated parents would be detained in jail-like facilities while children would be placed in foster homes or shelters for children. Read more……

Missing Burundi Journalist Yet to Be Found

Missing journalist,  Jean Bigirimana has been missing since  22 July, 2016 and there has not been any evidence that he is dead.

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His colleagues in Iwacu Press Group, recently marked the first anniversary of his disappearance.

Bigirimana’s wife and children are worried, they are at a lose as to what has happened to their breadwinner. Read more…..

Activist who accused Bahrain security forces of sexual assault is rearrested

A  prominent human Rights Activist,Ebtial-Saegh has been arrested and  detained by Security agents in Bharain for tweeting remarks considered  to be attacks on the   kingdom’s ruler and security forces.

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However, the activist is accusing the members of the security agency of sexually assaulting her. Read more……

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Mexico: Investigate state wrongdoings, not watchdogs

                                                        Statement

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ARTICLE 19 is extremely concerned about yesterday’s statement by the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, in relation to recent revelations documented by ARTICLE 19 Mexico and partners on the use of surveillance technology against journalists, victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders in Mexico. In his statement, the President asserted that the state prosecutor should launch an investigation of those who have raised “false accusations.” Read more….

Zimbabwe: Linda Musarira, Others Nabbed Over Toy Gun

Police have denied access to medication to the three human rights activists who were arrested for an alleged illegal possession of a “fire arm” in central Harare on Wednesday.

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Linda Masarira, Zimbabwe National Students Union secretary general, Makomborero Haruzivishe, and the Young Voters’ Platform national programs coordinator, Desmond Sharukai, were arrested at a local restaurant where they were having a drink Wednesday night for allegedly possessing a gun.

Fellow activists, who witnessed the arrest of the three, said Linda and friends were apprehended after they had an altercation with the workers of the restaurant they were having “drinks” at.

“Linda had a misunderstanding with one of the workers at the restaurant and she pointed a toy gun at him,” said the activists who requested not to be named.

According to their attorney, Obey Shava, from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, one of the activists who are detained at Harare Central police station, Haruzivishe, was assaulted during the skirmishes at the scene of their arrest and sustained a “fractured” leg.

“The police have denied my clients access to medication after spending the whole day negotiating with them to have them taken to the hospital so that they can be attended to by doctors,” Shava told NewZimbabwe.com in Harare Thursday.

“They denied the request to have them sent to hospital for treatment despite serious and visible injuries,” he said.

Shava also said the police were yet to prefer charges against the three activists.

“This is an illegal detention which my clients continue to be under given the fact that it is now than 17 hours since they were arrested.

“If they are to charge them I suspect that they might charge them with assault and possible pointing a gun at someone, but they are yet to charge them,” said Shava.

Source : New Zimbabwe(London)

Egypt: Blocking news websites violates the constitution and international obligations

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the unprecedented situation of restrictions on freedom of the press and the free flow of information in Egypt, following the announcement by the Egyptian state-run news agency, Mena, on 24 May 2017 that the Egyptian authorities had blocked 21 news websites.

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The blocking included Egyptian news websites known for criticizing authorities such as Mada Masr, and the websites of foreign outlets such as Al Jazeera, Huffpost Arabi and Al Sharq TV.

“Recent blocking measures indicate a continuing and serious deterioration of media freedoms and reflect a decline in human rights in general in Egypt, where the authorities have so far ignoredthe warnings of local and international human rights organizations,” said Saloua Ghazouani, director of ARTICLE 19 Middle East and North Africa.

“The blocking measures are further evidence that the authorities tolerate only the voices that support the regime and are silent about its serious human rights abuses,” stated Ghazouani.

The blocking measures violate the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 and also Egypt’s international obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 70 of the Egyptian Constitution states that “Freedom of the press, printing and paper, visual, audio and electronic publication is guaranteed.” Article 71 states that “It is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way.”

In recent years, Egypt’s rankings in the World Press Freedom Index, prepared by Reporters Without Borders, have been steadily deteriorating. In 2017, Egypt is on the “blacklist” of countries where the situation for freedom of expression is “very dangerous,” with journalists jailed or detained for long periods.

In 2017, Egypt ranked 161 out of the 180 countries included in the report, down from 159 in 2016 to 158 in 2015.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Egyptian authorities to restore access to the 21 news websites and ensure access to information through a free and independent media for all in Egypt.

Uganda: Abuse of Social Media Forcing Govt to Filter Content, Says ICT Minister

Kabarole — The minister for Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance, Mr Frank Tumwebaze has said the increasing public abuse of social media is forcing the hands of government to regulate the use of the platforms.

Speaking at the 51 celebrations of the World’s Communication Day at Virika Parish, Fort Portal Diocese in Fort Portal Municipality on Sunday, Mr Tumwebaze said there is need to filter social media content that the public posts on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

“In other countries such as UK, everything that goes on air is first filtered but here in Uganda we have not reached that, but we need to be ambassadors of our information,” Mr Tumwebaze said.

He said some people have taken advantage of such platforms to terrorise the country and warned such users to desist and use the new innovations to transform the country.

Mr Tumwebaze who asked the public to be security conscious of cybercrimes, rallied Ugandans to register their SIM cards before August 30 as his ministry and Uganda Communication Commissions will switch off all subscribers who will fail to register or verify their SIM cards.

He warned that there won’t be any more extension after the three month’s grace period allowed for subscribers to register. Fort Portal Dioceses Bishop Robert Muhirwa, expressed concern on misuse of social media platforms to spread pornographic information to the public and asked the government regulate such content.

“Somebody used my name on Facebook and started asking people for money allegedly for helping needy people, and this is wrong. Government should help us” Bishop Muhirwa said.

To mark the World’s Communications Day, Pope Francis asked the media users to be objective and help their nations through spreading good news since bad news disorganises communities.

Why Day is celebrated

World Communications Day was declared by Pope Paul VI in 1967 as an annual celebration that encourages reflection on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of social communication, including the press, motion pictures, radio, television and the internet, afford the Church to communicate messages of the Gospel.

This year’s World’s Communications Day was celebrated under the theme; “Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

Source : The Monitor(Kampala)