The government says existing laws do not protect a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.
The New Zealand government announced on Friday that in response to the attack by a white racist in Christchurch two years ago that killed 51 Muslims, it would strengthen the country’s laws against hate speech and increase penalties for inciting hatred and discrimination.
The move comes after a royal commission of inquiry into the March 15, 2019 attack recommended changes to hate speech and hate crime laws that were alleged to have weak deterrence of those targeting religious and other minority groups.
New Zealand’s hate speech laws have so far resulted in only one indictment and two civil claims, the Royal Commission found.
“Protecting our right to freedom of expression while balancing that right with protection from ‘hate speech’ requires careful thought and a wide range of input,” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said at a press conference.
“Building social cohesion, inclusion and appreciation for diversity can also be an effective means of counteracting the actions of those who seek to spread or perpetuate discrimination and hatred.”
The government proposed new offenses for hate speech that it believed were clearer and more effective.
According to the proposal, a person who “intentionally incites, maintains or normalizes hatred” would break the law if they did so through threat, insult or abuse, including inciting violence, the government said.
The penalty for such offenses would be increased to a maximum of three years in prison or a fine of up to 50,000 New Zealand dollars ($ 35,000). Currently the penalty is up to $ 7,000 New Zealand ($ 4,950) or three months in prison.
She also proposed provisions that would protect trans, gender and intersex people from discrimination. Current laws only target statements that “arouse enmity against a person or group” because of their skin color, race or ethnicity.
“Freedom of Expression Question”
The proposals are now available for public consultation.
According to Radio New Zealand, the government is also considering changing the language and extending incitement to human rights law.
A white racist attack in Christchurch in 2019 claimed at least 51 Muslim believers [Mark Baker/AP]But it has not yet been decided which groups will be added.
Only the use of utterances that “arouse hostility” or “despise” a person or group because of their skin color, race or ethnicity is currently considered a criminal offense. However, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability are not considered protected.
Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people and injured dozen when he opened fire on Muslim worshipers in two mosques in Christchurch and streamed the atrocity live on Facebook shortly after posting a racist manifesto online.
With support from across the political spectrum, New Zealand immediately banned the sale of the semi-automatic high-powered weapons used by Tarrant.
In August 2020, a judge sentenced Tarrant to life imprisonment without parole, the first time a New Zealand court has imposed such a sentence.
But changes to the laws on hate speech have been more controversial as some political parties said they would hinder free expression.
“The government’s proposed hate speech laws are a great asset to the abandonment culture and will create an even more divided society,” New Zealand’s smaller ACT party leader David Seymour said in a statement.
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