Between Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression, By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat,
Few weeks ago, the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo
declared that henceforth, the Federal Government of Nigeria will
classify hate speech as specie of Terrorism and offenders will be
charged under the Terrorism Prevention Act, as amended.
The Vice President, who is also a Professor of law stated that,
Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended defines ‘’terrorism as an act
deliberately done with malice, which may seriously harm a country or
is intended or can be reasonably regarded as having been done to
seriously intimidate a population’’ and for this reason, hate speech
is considered an act of terrorism.
Since this declaration was made weeks ago, the debate about what
constitute hate speech, particularly on social media has become the
new national discuss.
While some people are claiming that the classification of hate speech
as act of terrorism infringe on the rights of citizens to freedom of
expression as guaranteed in the constitution, others including this
writer hold the view that, hate speech is not free speech and its
criminalization has not in anyway, infringe on citizens right to
freedom of expression. Instead, we are of the view that,
criminalization of hate speech is more like holding citizens
accountable to their freely expressed views, thereby encouraging
responsibility in expression.
It is therefore important to explore the concept of hate speech, as it
relates to the freedom of expression and determine whether or not, the
criminalization of hate speech constitute an infringement on free
My understanding as a peace professional is that, hate speech is an
act of emotional terrorism, done with the intention of injuring,
damaging or inciting a person or group of persons. Or better still, we
can see hate speech as anti peace advocacy or an act to cause mass
disruption of personal emotional peace. It can aptly be described as
an act of violence against the mind with the intention of instigation
ARTICLE 19, a global organization working to ensure people everywhere
can express themselves freely define hate speech as the advocacy of
hatred based on nationality, race or religion.
In a publication titled ‘’hate speech’’ by article 19, the
organization stated that generally speaking, the right to freedom of
expression extends to unpopular ideas and statements which “shock,
offend or disturb” and a number of human rights treaties, including
the ICCPR, not only permit states to prohibit hate speech, but
actually require them to do so.
In other word, prohibiting hate speech is not only permissible by
several international human right treaties, it is actually a
requirement. All multi racial, multi ethnic and multi religious
countries seeking to build or sustain peace must as a matter of
necessity have regulations to check hate speech. Faily to do this will
cost the nation more, not only in term of resources, but also human,
as hate advocacy will hinder reasonable collaboration between citizens
from different groups due to inherent suspicion and quest to guard
themselves from emotional violence and disappointment.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established by UN in
1994 elaborated somewhat on the definition of the crime of hate speech
is all about. In The Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza, & Ngeze, it
stated that the defendant’s intent must be established, and that
“[t]he actual language used in the media has often been cited as an
indicator of intent.”
However, it is not necessary to show “any specific causation …
linking the expression at issue with the demonstration of a direct
effect.”Article 19 said.
Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech.
Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes
incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be
prohibited by law.
Article 20(2) does not require states to prohibit all negative
statements towards national groups, races or religions but, as soon as
a statement “constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or
violence,” it must be banned. Article 19 publication said.
By this regulation, citizen’s consciousness will be raised and
UN-intentional hate speeches, or hate speeches made unconsciously will
be considerably reduced, and those who made them can quickly retract
Regarding the claim that regulation on hate speech violates citizens
right to freedom of expression, Article 19 went further to state that,
the UNHRCm has stated that there is no contradiction between the duty
to adopt domestic legislation under Article 20(2) and the right to
freedom of expression, In the opinion of the Committee, these required
prohibitions are fully compatible with the right of freedom of
expression as contained in article 19, the exercise of which carries
with it special duties and responsibilities.
Other critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is used to
silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented.
But this is not close to the truth. Hate speech is distinctly
different from policy criticism. Criticism of policy can not be
classified as an incitement against any particular group on the basis
of tribe, region or religion, neither can it incite people to cause
In a detailed submission on wikipedia, hate speech regulations is said
to be divided into two types: those which are designed for public
order and those which are designed to protect human dignity. Those
designed to protect public order require a higher threshold to be
violated, so they are not specifically enforced frequently. For
example, in Northern Ireland, as of 1992 only one person was
prosecuted for violating the regulation in twenty one years. Those
meant to protect human dignity have a much lower threshold to be
violated, so those in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the
Netherlands seem to be frequently enforced. (Wikipedia)
As Nigeria take the giant step to ensure sanity in its polity by
taking steps to hold every citizen accountable to their freely
expressed speeches, we should understand that this it is not the first
to do so. Many countries have enacted law against hate speech. Belgium
did so in 1981, Brazil in 1988, Canada in 1990. France, Germany,
Japan, South Africa, Denmark, Finland and host of others have also
done so. In Canada for example, someone found guilty of hate speech
may get as much as 5 year’s imprisonment.
Finally, every nation that wants to develop first say good things
about itself. if Nigerians truly want peace and development as many
claim they do, we must be responsible in our speeches, as this is the
first sign that signify readiness for growth. No nation grows by
consistently advocating hatred against itself.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat is the Executive Director of Foundation for Peace