Hate speech laws will not make NZ a safer and more tolerant society

Media release from the Free Speech Union

The Free Speech Union is reacting with concern to the Government's plan to make speech criminal and says the proposals will go no way towards making New Zealand a safer and more tolerant society.

The law would change so that a person who intentionally incites, stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred against any protected group of people, would be liable for up to three years in prison if they did so by being threatening, abusive or even insulting.

Spokesperson for Union, David Cumin says, "The government claims these changes to hate speech laws will promote social cohesion. The opposite is true - legislating hatred out of existence is a hopeless expectation. What's more, the government is yet to provide examples of the speech they intend these provisions to capture."

"The ambiguity of certain words in the legislation such as ‘insulting’ imports a real risk that speech may fall within the ambit for prosecution that was never intended to be criminalised by those envisioning the proposals."

"Free speech has to mean the ability to insult. Democracy can’t work if the powers at be can deem certain arguments or speech as illegal."

"Alarmingly, being found guilty of hate speech would carry a higher penalty than some violent offences. In any event, a lengthy prison sentence is unlikely to be the best mechanism to make an intolerant person rethink their views, if anything, it will push them into dark corners that would make violence a more tangible possibility."

"New Zealanders should prepare for the very real possibility that those who take offence to tweets, crass statements or unsavoury protests will run to law-enforcement to have their offence indulged. The Union has already been contacted by members of Police concerned about having to enforce these proposals. While the ambit for successful prosecution may be high, overseas experience has shown that the introduction of such laws has resulted in law enforcement consistently missing the mark, and has created a structure allowing for legal harassment of the state against citizens, even if they are ultimately found not guilty."

"The Free Speech Union will be fighting these proposals and invite all Kiwis who value this human right to join us."

ENDS