AfriForum opposes proposed bill that threatens freedom of speech in oral presentation

The civil rights organisation AfriForum today made a critical oral presentation before the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on the proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. These comments are about the 2019 version of the proposed bill. In 2019 and 2021, AfriForum submitted written comments against this proposed legislation. Although the current version has already been submitted to the previous parliament, it has since expired. The bill has now once again been opened for comment by the public and will again be submitted to the current parliament.

The constitutional standard regarding hate speech is that of freedom of speech that does not extend to the advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and which does not constitute incitement to cause harm. According to the Bill, however, the mere propagation of hatred or harm is sufficient for speech to be regarded as hate speech. Another problem is that “harm” is defined in the Bill as including emotional harm and social harm. Furthermore, the grounds on which hate speech can be committed according to the Bill is too far-reaching and includes age, for example. The consequence is that mocking someone based on their age (such as calling someone an “old fart”) could amount to a criminal offense punishable by three years in jail.

Ernst van Zyl, Campaign Officer for strategy and content at AfriForum, maintains that it is clear that the costs will be very high if the broad definitions of damage and hate speech proposed by the bill are accepted.

“The right to freedom of speech that is protected by the Constitution exists precisely to protect speech that some people or governments may find offensive, even deeply disturbing, or that they do not like. If freedom of speech only protected speech that was popular or that everyone liked, then it would not have required any protection by the Constitution,” Van Zyl concludes.

Watch AfriForum’s oral presentation here.

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