On Thursday, 17 November, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), acting on behalf of over 69 (including many of the major) denominations, churches and religious group, delivered a letter to the Deputy Minister of Justice, expressing serious concern regarding the tight timeline given for comment on the new draft Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. Although the original deadline of 1 December 2016 has this morning been extended until the end of January 2017 (see *notice by the Department of Justice below), the holiday period combined with the logistics faced by religious groups in consulting with their members means that there is insufficient time for this to take place in sufficient depth so that appropriate response and comment on the Bill can be made.
While the apparent intent of the Bill is to combat racism and xenophobia in South Africa, the overly broad definition of “hate speech” is likely to have a serious impact on freedom of speech and, in particular, on freedom of religion. It is therefore critical that Government consults and engages with the faith community in relation to this Bill, lest it inadvertently criminalises the teaching and preaching from the Bible and other Holy Texts.
“Given that this law has the potential to adversely affect the entire faith community of South Africa, the time frame given for comment is simply inadequate for the level of consultation that needs to take place within individual churches, denominations and religious groups before appropriate and informed comments can be made” said Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA, “In the interest of good faith towards the faith community of South Africa, and bearing in mind that many organisations shut down and many people take leave over the December / January holiday period, we propose and request that the deadline for responses to this Bill be extended to Wednesday, 1 March 2017.”
(*Notice by the Department of Justice)
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has extended the deadline for submissions on the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill from 1 December 2016 to 31 January 2017.
The Department is of the view that the public must be afforded sufficient time to ensure that once passed into legislation the Bill reflects the collective wisdom of the country.
The Bill creates the offences of hate crimes and hate speech and seeks to put in place measures to prevent and combat these offences. A hate crime is committed if a person commits any recognised offence, that is a common law or statutory offence (referred to as the “base crime or offence”) and the commission of that offence is motivated by unlawful bias, prejudice or intolerance.
The Bill has been drafted after a thorough study of other similar pieces of legislation internationally, such as those in Kenya, Canada and Australia. Developing specific legislation on hate crimes will have a number of advantages. It will provide additional tools to investigators and prosecutors to hold the perpetrators of hate crimes accountable and provide a means to monitor efforts and trends in addressing hate crimes.
Details about commenting are available here: Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill – draft
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