Calls for tougher hate speech laws after assault on Muslim woman

by Sally Blundell / 16 February, 2017

Still image from the assault. Image/Mehpara Khan

Calls for stronger hate speech laws emerged over summer after a spate of racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic vitriol.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush has questioned whether there should be specific hate-crime legislation after the assault on a Muslim woman in Huntly, filmed and posted on social media – but the Government is unlikely to introduce new laws.

Bush used a parliamentary select committee review yesterday to raise the idea after the Muslim woman was assaulted outside public toilets at the weekend. Twenty-seven-year-old Megan Walton admitted two charges of assault and one of behaving in an insulting manner likely to cause violence in a public place when she appeared in the Hamilton District Court on Monday. She has been bailed to an Auckland address.

But the Government does not see the need for a specific offence for hate crimes, according to Radio New Zealand. Police Minister Paula Bennett said she hadn’t seen a rise in hate crimes and, “on the whole, people were more tolerable in New Zealand”.

Justice Minister Amy Adams, who would be responsible for introducing any new law to Parliament, says existing legislation is enough.

Last month Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said she wanted the Government to review hate-speech legislation to take into account the way people communicate with each other on the internet.

Read more: Balancing hate speech laws with freedom of speech

In November, then-Prime Minister John Key added his voice to a wave of criticism against Brian Tamaki’s rant blaming gays, sinners and killers for the Kaikoura earthquakes.

That same month, Ethnic Communities Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga blasted anti-Jewish statements made by Muslim cleric Shaykh Mohammad Anwar Sahib, then secretary of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, that were posted online.

The cleric’s comments were “offensive and insulting,” Lotu-Iiga said. “The comments are way out of step with New Zealand’s egalitarian values.”

Lotu-Iiga said hate speech was prohibited under Section 61 of the Human Rights Act. Complaints over the video have been lodged with the Human Rights Commission.

There has already been a tightening of the law in response to the “Roast Busters” case of 2013. Under the 2015 Harmful Digital Communications Act, it is a criminal offence to post a digital communication, including private messages as well as publicly shared posts, that causes harm or intends to cause harm to the victim. The criminal offence carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment or a fine up to $50,000 (or, for a body corporate, a fine of up to $200,000). There is “safe harbour”-style protection for online content hosts provided they follow the prescribed procedure for handling complaints.

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