The power of hate speech

BY  ArticleYAA

Cross Post:

“Your freedom ends where my nose begins.”

The power of hate speech which can merge with incitement to violence can be horrific. No wonder most civilized countries in the world make an exception to these under their law of Freedom of Expression.

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.” (Page 25 of my book ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan)

 Use of derogatory expressions that incite negativism fall within the ambit of hate speech. Words like nigger, faggot, homo, queer are all terms used to provoke members of a society against others. Such terms degrade those for whom they are used.  In the world that we live in today, with geographical barriers down, a world fraught with wars, hatred and conflicts, can the world, and media in specific, afford to vent more hatred, more conflicts by ignoring the legitimate and valid limitation that must be taken into consideration while exercising the right to freedom of expression?

Irresponsible use of freedom of expression is an abuse of the right. Those exposed to hate speech are all kinds of people, educated, uneducated, frustrated, maybe having faced injustices. It is the frame of mind, it is that one moment that may accept the full impact of hate speech in any form and commit an act, later repented, but cannot be undone.

Incitement to offence cannot be allowed in exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Incitement to offence is a real encouragement to commit a crime. It can be through persuasion, threat, advice, direct help of any kind. The intention must be for the crime to be committed. A plea that the person encouraging the other to commit an offence, did not know the  act was an offence will not stand. Ignorance of law is no excuse. Anger words spoken by politicians on electronic media, which has a huge impact in a country like Pakistan.

Freedom of expression, like any other liberty, brings with itself a very heavy responsibility, on the shoulders of all of us exercising that right and in particular upon those who are placed in positions to influence policies, impact and form public opinion. At no stage, can we encourage criminal acts and then feign innocence or shrug off the responsibility that goes with freedom.

Whether incitement is against an individual person or a group which may be based on ethnic, racial or any other ground, it stands as limitation against the right to freedom of expression.

Under Pakistan law, both are treated as exceptions to freedom of expression. Different laws overlap placing restrictions on both. Under Article 19, Constitution of Pakistan 1973 both incitement to violence and disturbing public order are exceptions to the rule. Hate speech and incitement to offence can and does lead to disturbing the public order. How do we determine what’s incitement to violence and what is not? Any person, who, knowingly, urges another, by an act or by words to commit an offence under law, will be said to have incited that person to violence. Legally defined to incite will mean, “To arouse, urge, provoke, encourage, spur on, goad, stir up, instigate, set in motion, as to “incite” a riot.” (Black’s Law Dictionary: sixth edition. Centennial Edition (1891-1991) Pg 762)


Article 6 of the Anti- Terrorism Act 1997, of Pakistan deals in depth with terrorism Article (6) (b) “The use or threat is designed to coerce and intimidate or overawe the Government or the public or a section of the public or community or sect or create a sense of fear or insecurity in society;


Article (6) (2) :An “action” shall fall within the meaning of sub-section (1), if it:

(a) involves the doing of anything that causes death; (b) involves grievous violence against a person or grievous bodily injury or harm to a person; (c) involves grievous damage to property; (d) involves the doing of anything that is likely to cause death or endangers a person’s life; (f) incites hatred and contempt on religious, sectarian of ethnic basis to stir up violence or cause internal disturbance;
(g) involves stoning, brick-bating or any other forms of mischief to spread panic.”

This is not all, Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Act, VI of 1950 also contains provisions to deal with situations that endangers, with intent to influence safety or ideology of Pakistan.


The unfortunate speech by Altaf Hussain’s and the subsequent killing of one person and injury to many, the firing taking place outside of a media house, pelting of stone at police and media house staff by party supporters cannot be condoned. True enough that Altaf Hussain is based abroad and one may only protest to the UK government and as always Scotland Yard has promised to evaluate the speech.

To give credit to Farooq Sattar, he handled a tricky situation with the ease only a seasoned politician can. His eloquence, choice of words and aplomb can only be marveled at. A later statement denouncing Hussain followed. Irrespective of his pulling off the situation, the people, cynical now of power games; speak of it as whitewash. “No,” I was told, “This is a master stroke a day before Mayor Election.” Another wrote, “So long as Altaf Hussain  stays he’s the last word. He is the Quaid of his party. What does one mean by accepting him as one, but distancing oneself from a particular statement given by him?”  Yet another states that those who physically did the harm on ground are very much here and need to be booked under relevant laws to restore public faith in law and order agencies.  Another feels part issues will be handled in London. Yet some question if Sattar can be accepted by his workers on the same level as Altaf Hussain. Some say it is a diversion. There is a famous Urdu proverb that I am reminded of in light of these opinions, roughly translated it means, “For every mouth there is an opinion.”

Is this avalanche of opinion jumping to conclusions too soon? Yes it is, says renowned journalist Farrukh Khan Pitafi, “Of course there is a chance that this all might be for the mayor election. But I think regardless of sound bytes it is too early to dismiss developments as mere optics. Patience is needed.”

Pakistanis are famous for their patience with their leaders.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.’ Her mail ID is yasmeenali62@gmail.comtweets at @yasmeen_9

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