April 17, 2024

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Scottish hate crime law comes into effect as critics warn it will stifle speech

Scottish hate crime law comes into effect as critics warn it will stifle speech

A sweeping law targeting hate speech came into force in Scotland on Monday, promising protection from threats and abuse but sparking criticism that it could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The law, passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2021, expands protections for marginalized groups Creates a new charge “Inciting hatred,” which makes it a criminal offense to communicate or act in a way that “a reasonable person would consider threatening, abusive or insulting.”

Conviction can result in a fine and a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Protected categories as defined in the law include age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Racial hatred has been removed because it is already covered in a law dating back to 1986. The new law also does not include women among protected groups; A government taskforce recommended tackling misogyny in separate legislation.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who has been criticized for her comments on gender identity, said the law was “widely open to abuse by activists” and objected to its omission of women.

Mrs. Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, he said in a long social media post On Monday, the Scottish Parliament said it placed “a higher value on the feelings of men who practice their idea of ​​femininity, however misogynistic or opportunistic, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.”

She added: “I am currently out of the country, but if what I have written here is considered a crime under the terms of the new law, then I look forward to being arrested when I return to the Scot’s home country.” enlightenment.”

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The new law has long been supported by Scotland's First Minister, Humza Yousaf, but has raised concerns about the impact it could have on freedom of expression. Mr Youssef, who was Scotland's justice secretary when the bill was passed, was asked directly on Monday about criticism from Ms Rowling and others who oppose the law.

“It's not the Twitter police. They're not activists, they're not the media. Thank God, it's not even politicians who ultimately decide whether a crime has been committed or not.” He told Sky News. He said the matter would be up to “the police and the Crown to investigate, and the criminality threshold is incredibly high.”

The law was introduced after 2018 Study by a retired judge We recommend unifying the country's hate crime laws and updating the Public Order Act 1986, which covers Britain and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Parliament approved the new law 82-32 in March 2021.

Supporters of the legislation have spent years rallying support for it, saying it is necessary to combat harassment.

“We know that the impact of physical, verbal or online attacks on those who receive physical, verbal or online attacks can be traumatic and life-changing,” Siobhan Brown, Scotland’s Minister for Victims and Community Safety, said in a statement celebrating the law. “This legislation is a key component of our broader approach to addressing this harm.”

But there has been strong opposition to the law, including from Ms Rowling and the Scottish Conservative Party, whose leader, Douglas Ross, told Mr Youssef. During the Prime Minister's questions On March 14, he said that “the controversial new law is ripe for abuse.” In a separate exchange of questions on March 21, Mr. Ross said the law was “dangerous and unworkable” and that he expected it to be enforced. “It is rapidly descending into chaos.”

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“People like JK Rowling can have police at their doors every day making perfectly reasonable statements,” he said.

Mr Yousuf, who is of Pakistani origin, cited the 1986 law as a suitable precedent for the new bill.

“If I have protection against anyone who stirs up hatred because of my race – and this has been the case since 1986 – why on earth wouldn’t there be that protection for someone because of their sexual orientation, disability or religion?” He told Parliament on March 21.

The question of how the Scottish Government You have to deal with misogyny It was examined by a government-commissioned task force, which in 2022 recommended adding protections for women in a separate bill containing elements similar to the hate crimes bill passed the previous year.

The Prime Minister at the time, Nicola Sturgeon, He welcomed the reportShe promised that her government would give the matter full attention. Her successor, Mr Youssef, has also shown his support, but there has been no serious movement in Parliament yet.