By Nourhan Dakroury
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) released a report Tuesday distinguishing between what it called legitimate freedom of expression and hate speech tied to incitement of violence and racial discrimination.
The report noted that the lack of a “specific and clear definition for ‘hate speech’ in international law” has led to “confusion between freedom of expression and hate speech.”
“The difficulty in accurately defining the concept of hatred is because it could extend to public debates, which should not be restricted, such as discussions that address individuals’ hate of police force in view of its torture of citizens, or that may lead to hatred of government because of corruption of its members,” the report read.
It added that freedom of expression ends when discrimination begins dominating speech, turning it into “hate speech,” according to Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report defined discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference made on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, language, opinion, nationality, social class, property, birth, colour or any other factor which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or equal exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
If the speech is not based on discriminatory grounds, it is not to be categorised as such and should not be prohibited, the report said, adding that if the speech does not incite violence, hostility or discrimination then it does not fall under the category of hate speech.
“International jurisprudence has generally agreed to three forms of incitement that constitute an exception to freedom of expression,” AFTE’s statement summarising the report said. “These are inciting violence, inciting hatred and hostility, and incitement of racial discrimination.”
AFTE also noted a lack of consensus over how the state should deal with such cases.
According to the organisation, many believe it is important to criminalise incitement by restricting freedom of expression, whereas a second school of thought believes that only those who incite violence should be punished, on the grounds that inciting hostility, hate or discrimination should not be restricted if free speech is to be preserved.
A third popular viewpoint, AFTE said, sees all forms of incitement as “exceptions to freedom of expression,” believing that the state should manage such transgressions on a case-by-case basis.
AFTE says it believes that inciting violence should be criminalised, while incitement of hostility or hate should be dealt with by the state in other ways, such as “civil compensation for the victims of incitement.” This, they believe, would create a balance in the safeguarding of freedom of expression and rejecting hateful forms of expression.