Law to criminalise hate speech nearly ready

A Bill which makes hate speech a criminal offence would be tabled to Cabinet within weeks‚ Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery said this week.

Jeffery said a revision of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes Bill now included a section on hate speech after events earlier this year highlighted the need for it.

“The events we witnessed in January this year highlighted the need to include hate speech‚ as a criminal offence‚ in the Bill‚” Jeffery said.

He was referring to the outcry following comments made on Facebook by Penny Sparrow‚ a white woman who referred to black people as monkeys.

Jeffery was addressing the annual general meeting of the Hate Crimes Working Group in Cape Town on Wednesday. The group is a network of civil society organisations working together against hate crimes in the country and region. The working group had made input on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes Bill last year before the hate speech provision was included.

Jeffery said the Bill‚ which he called “one of the major building blocks in building a society free of hate crimes and prejudice”‚ is now called the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes Bill and Hate Speech Bill and will be subjected to a broad public consultation process. In terms of the Bill‚ someone would commit a hate crime if he committed any recognised offence motivated by unlawful bias‚ prejudice or intolerance.

Jeffery said the base offences committed against victims of hate crimes were offences relating to the physical and emotional integrity of the person such as murder‚ rape and assault. Any conduct which amounts to an attempt‚ incitement‚ instigation and conspiracy to commit a hate crime is also criminalised‚ he said.

He said the Bill now created an offence of hate speech. Jeffery said it provided that any person who intentionally advocated hatred of any other person in a way that incited others to harm such person or group of persons‚ whether or not such person or group of persons was harmed‚ was guilty of the offence of hate speech. “We are confident that this will address some of the vitriolic comments we see so often on social media and online‚” he said.

In the past‚ a person who fell victim to hate speech or unfair discrimination had only a civil remedy through the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. Jeffery said because of the sensitive and often complex nature of cases of this nature‚ the Bill required the relevant Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise any prosecution in writing.

He said international experience had shown that having a hate crimes law on the statute book was not enough. “The success of the law stands or falls on implementation – in other words‚ official monitoring and reporting mechanisms‚ adequate police training and the strengthening of a country’s overall criminal justice response.”

He said President Jacob Zuma‚ in his Human Rights Day address‚ gave an undertaking that the Bill would be tabled in Parliament by September this year. “Our department will leave no stone unturned to ensure that this is done.”


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