Muslim organisation questions why hate speech law reforms abandoned

9:28 am on 2 April 2024
Worshippers - including those from the Linwood Islamic Centre - gathering for Jumu'ah at Masjid Annur, five years on from the March 15 terror attacks.

Worshippers - including those from the Linwood Islamic Centre - gathering for Jumu'ah at Masjid Annur, five years on from the March 15 terror attacks. Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

A Muslim organisation wants the justice minister to explain why he is abandoning proposed hate speech law reforms that were recommended following the Christchurch mosque attack.

The terror attack in 2019 left 51 people killed and 40 others seriously injured.

The Federation of Islamic Associations (FIANZ) said a range of laws currently prevented hateful speech about colour, race and national origins - but not religious belief.

The Law Commission had been looking into whether that should change under the previous government, but Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith ordered it to stop, saying it undermined free speech.

FIANZ chairperson Abdur Razzaq told Morning Report there had to be a balance, and the public needed a chance to decide where that balance lay.

"We thought that this experienced minister, unlike the two previous ones we had under Labour ... he would take a very methodical approach."

"There has to be limits, there already are ... you can't go around saying many things already because you know, it could be defamation, it could be many other things," said Razzaq.

"Freedom of speech is sacrosanct, but there has to be some limits, there has to be some balance."

In a statement, Goldsmith defended the government's position and pointed out work on hate crime legislation was still underway.

"The government has no plans to remove the existing protections in the law related to hate speech, but we opposed and will not continue Labour's proposed hate speech laws, because they would have undermined free speech.

"I have been clear work on hate crimes law will proceed, as it is extremely important we make sure all of our communities in New Zealand are protected and are safe. I expect the Law Commission to engage broadly in its work, including with FIANZ.

"We acknowledge that it's now been five years since the events of March 15, and many may feel frustrated by the pace of the government's response. We are actively working to move this forward and bring the process to a close."

The 15 March terror attack was against a particular faith and the Royal Commission stated that religion should be included as a protected characteristic, Razzaq said, noting it had also been clear about the link between hate speech and hate crime.

"A major recommendation, you just can't put it aside. There needs to be public discussions on it," he said.

"It's actually quite confusing, because he says proceed with the hate crime legislation, but not with the hate speech.

"Hate crime is a different legislation to hate speech, but both are related - you can't have one without the other."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs