Freedom of Expression, Minorities and State Protection

Published 13/06/2012
Type Article
Author(s) Zia Akhtar
Corresponding Authors Zia Akhtar, Grays Inn

The recent acquittal of Dutch MP Geert Wilder on a charge of inciting racial hatred, banning of veils in France, and the burning of the Koran in the US, are part of a sequence of criminalisation of Muslims. Iconographic figures of Muslims were demonised, beginning with the publicising of libellous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, initially inDenmark and then much of Europe, depicting him as a terrorist. There are international conventions that prohibit the discrimination of communities based on their religious beliefs. In the UK, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 has extended the ambit of the Public Order Act 1986 to cover religious harassment. However, the failed prosecutions under the statute show that it does not extend to vilification of the belief and only addresses the people who practice the creed. The findings of researchers in the UK and US show that the fundamental rights in granting freedom of expression vary according to the constitutions but their expression needs to be balanced with the effect on the rights of a
minority. This paper presents an argument that the commission of hate crimes should include a grossly offensive insult to a religious faith for the improved protection of minorities from racist attack, even if the intention of the perpetrator is to invite contemporary discussion.