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Hate Speech: How it resonates in other lands

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By Bartholomew Madukwe

As reactions continue to greet the hate speech bill proposed by the Senate, Nigerians are trying to understand what really constitutes hate speech. In the law of some countries, hate speech is described as “speech, gesture, conduct, writing or display” which is forbidden because it incites violence or prejudicial action against a protected group or individual on the basis of their membership of the group. In some countries, hate speech is not a legal term and in some, it is constitutionally protected.

President of the Nigerian 8th Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki

The bill, which was sponsored by the spokesman of the upper chamber, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger), stipulates that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction.

There has been considerable debate over the definition of “hate speech” as the bill notes that, “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or

insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, commits an offence, if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred

is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”

Hate Speech Laws in other countries :-


Australia’s hate speech laws vary by jurisdiction and seek, especially, to prevent victimisation on account of race.

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 forbids hate speech on several grounds. The Act makes it “unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person, or of some or all of the people in the group.”


The Belgian Anti-Racism Law, in full, the Law of 30 July 1981 on the Punishment of Certain Acts inspired by Racism or Xenophobia, is a law against hate speech and discrimination passed by the Federal Parliament of Belgium in 1981 which made certain acts motivated by racism or xenophobia illegal. It is also known as the Moureaux Law.


In Brazil, according to the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, racism is an “Offence with no statute of limitations and no right to bail for the defendant”.


In Canada, the offence of publicly inciting hatred makes exceptions for cases of statements of truth, and subjects of public debate and religious doctrine.

The landmark judicial decision on the constitutionality of this law was R. v. Keegstra (1990).


France prohibits by its penal code and by its Press laws public and private

communication which is

defamatory or insulting, or which incites discrimination, hatred, or violence against a person or a group of persons on account of place of origin, ethnicity or lack thereof, nationality, race, specific religion, sex, sexual orientation, or handicap.


In Germany, Volksverhetzung (“incitement to hatred”) is a punishable offence under Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch (Germany’s criminal code) and can lead to up to five years’

imprisonment.[36] Section 130 makes it a crime to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or to call for violent or arbitrary measures against them or to insult, maliciously slur or defame them in a manner violating their(constitutionally protected) human dignity.


Freedom of speech and expression is protected by article 19 (1) of the constitution of India, but under article 19(2) “reasonable restrictions” can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.


Indonesia has been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 2006, but has not promulgated comprehensive legislation against hate-speech crimes. Calls for a comprehensive anti-hate speech law and associated educational programme have followed statements by a leader of a hard-line Islamic organisation that Balinese Hindus were mustering forces to protect the “lascivious Miss World pageant” in “a war against Islam” and that “those who fight on the path of Allah are promised heaven”.

The statements are said to be an example of similar messages of intolerance being preached throughout the country by radical clerics.

The National Police ordered all of their personnel to anticipate any potential conflicts in society caused by hate speech.

The order is stipulated in the circular signed by the National Police chief, General Badrodin Haiti on Oct. 8, 2015.


Japanese law covers threats and slander, but it “does not apply to hate speech against general groups of people ”. Japan became a member of the United Nations

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995.


Singapore has passed numerous laws that prohibit speech that causes disharmony among various religious groups. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is an example of such legislation.

South Africa

In South Africa, hate speech (along with incitement to violence and propaganda for war) is specifically excluded from protection of free speech in the constitution.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000  stipulates that no person may publish, propagate,advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful; be harmful or to incite harm and promote or propagate hatred.


Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation. The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere.


In Switzerland, public discrimination or invoking to rancour against persons or a group of people because of their race, ethnicity, is getting penalised with a term of imprisonment for three years.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, several statutes criminalise hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, or abusive, and which targets a person on account of disability, ethnic or national origin, nationality (including citizenship), race, religion, sexual orientation, or skin colour. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.

United States

Starting in the 1940s, U.S states began passing hate speech laws. In Beauharnais v. Illinois, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state of Illinois’s hate speech laws. Illinois’s laws punished expression that was offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups.

Meanwhile, Professors of law and senior lawyers in Nigeria have condemned the proposed hate speech bill, describing it as extremist and betrayal of the people’s trust.


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