Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 26 July 2018

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religion) Mujahid Yusof Rawa told parliament on July 24 that a Religious and Racial Hatred Act would be tabled soon “… not just to deal with incidences when Islam is insulted but also when non-Muslim faiths are insulted…This is to ensure that our multi-religious and multiracial society is protected from being insulted and belittled.”

There are three reasons why such a law is ill conceived:

(i)                  It is framed as a “problem” rather than a solution;

(ii)                It is another “fluffy” law that can be used against dissidents;

(iii)               It is not “rights” based.

  1. From ‘problem’ frame to ‘solution’ frame

Milton Erickson, the acclaimed practitioner of medical hypnosis taught us the power of “embedded commands” and how words shape our external experience. Thus, if we want a new society that is equal, just and tolerant, we should avoid naming a law a “Religious and Racial Hatred Act”.

Why focus on HATRED? Words sculp our inner world which then shape the outer world. Thus, shout at a child “Don’t RUN…You’ll FALL!”, chances are the child is going to fall…As they say in Communication Studies, THE MEANING OF YOUR COMMUNICATION IS IN THE EFFECT THAT IT EVOKES. So let us focus on what it is we want to have happen…

  1. Fluffily worded laws won’t do either

The old regime’s National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) had drafted The National Harmony Bill, National Unity Bill and the National Unity & Integration Commission Bill. Like these fluffily worded bills, the originators of these Bills including the present law under discussion, are avoiding the “problem” we are trying to solve.

Sure, “national harmony”, “national security” are preferable to the embedded commands in “religious and racial hatred” and “sedition” but we know from our harrowing experience with the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act that these nice fluffy concepts cut both ways. Nice folks like us human rights defenders get taken in under the same fluffily worded laws as well”! Thus, I was arrested and detained in 1987 for threatening “national harmony” because I had spoken at a forum on the human right to mother tongue education.

  1. What do we want to have happen?

From the Bills, it is very clear that they are aimed at combatting a problem widely recognised by the world community at least since the Second World War; namely, racism, racial discrimination, related prejudice and intolerance. The new Foreign Minister should take note since he has committed to the ratification of the international Covenants including the International Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination.

Thus the UK has the Equality Act 2010, the purpose of which is to align the Race Relations Act with European Human Rights legislation and to extend protection to other groups not previously covered, namely, to cover age, disability, gender, religion, belief and sexual orientation.

It is not surprising that in the old and new Malaysia, legislators cannot seem to be able to frame laws in terms of “Equality” because “incitement to racial and religious hatred” would be considered a criminal offence within the scope of such an Equality Act.

Under the UK Equality Act, actions are also considered to be direct discrimination when “someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic”. The British Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 made publication of materials that incited racial hatred an arrestable offence. These include:

  • Deliberately provoking hatred against a racial group;
  • Distributing racist material to the public;
  • Making inflammatory public speeches;
  • Creating racist websites on the internet;
  • Inciting inflammatory rumours about an individual or ethnic group, in order to spread racial discontent.

“Hate crimes” are criminal acts committed as intimidation, threats, property damage, assault, murder or such other criminal offence. They are a type of crime in which the perpetrator is sending a message to the victim about their right to belong to that society. Hate crimes violate the principle of equality between people and deny their right to achieve full human dignity and to realize their full potential.

Hate speech is defined as an expression of hatred towards another person or group of people using various means such as writing, speech or any other form of communication. In the United Kingdom there are a number of laws set out to provide protection to citizens from hate speech.

In 2006, The Public Order Act was amended to include religious hatred and in 2008, the Public Order Act was amended to forbid the incitement of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Anyone who uses threatening or abusive behaviour in this way can face up to seven years in prison, which is the maximum sentence. Fines can also be added to prison sentences or applied solely.

An Equality & Human Rights Commission

In the UK they also have an Equality & Human Rights Commission. For a population of more than 56 million, this commission has just ten (10) commissioners. Now, in Malaysia, we already have a National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM). Our Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) should therefore extend its jurisdiction to incorporate an Equality Commission for after all, equality is an intrinsic part of our human rights. Its work would be to encourage greater integration and better ethnic relations and to use legal powers to help eradicate racial discrimination and harassment. Thus, its ambit would cover racist stereotyping in text books and the press; racial discrimination in the public sphere, employment, education, social services, advertisements.

Such an independent commission should be empowered to issue codes of practice and be invested with powers to conduct formal investigations and to serve notices to furnish information or documents in order to enforce the law.

No place for racists and religious bigots

Clearly, far right racial supremacists and religious exclusivists who rail about the dominance of their “race” or religion should be reined in by an Equality & Human Rights Commission and dealt with under an Equality Act and/or Public Order Act. To take Malaysia out of the dark ages and into 21st century developed status, the new regime needs to address the main issues of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance in our society and to propose appropriate Bills and institutions to resolve these problems. As we have seen, failure to do so results in fluffily clad Bills which merely serve to glamourize an insincere regime.

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