24 Sep 2020

Al Noor Mosque imam urges reform of hate speech laws to protect religious followers

9:17 pm on 24 September 2020

The imam of Al Noor Mosque has called for new laws that "draw a clear line between freedom of speech and hate speech".

Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda speaks at the plaque unveiling with the prime minister on 24 September, 2020.

Imam Gamal Fouda says freedom of speech can turn into hate speech. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

At today's unveiling of a plaque commemorating the victims of the 15 March terror attacks in Christchurch, Gamal Fouda says New Zealand needs to lead the world in enacting new legislation to "protect all followers of any faith from intolerance and hatred, and prohibit incitement against any faith and race".

"In many occasions, freedom of speech becomes hate speech and hence turns into hate crime as we have seen it in 15th March terror attack," he says.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says current legislation already has provisions in place to deal with hate speech and discrimination of people with different identities, but religion was not included in it.

"My view is that does need to change and that would be our plan if we were privileged to form government again."

Labour had not been able to deliver that law change in the last term.

"No-one should be discriminated for their religion and so it makes sense that we add this to the suite of other things that we say it is just not okay to discriminate [against] people over," Ardern says.

"The Human Rights Commission did a piece of work around the Human Rights Act making sure that we codify across a range of areas where you should not, cannot discriminate - religion should be added to that."

Asked if laws needed to be made stronger to make sure hate speech was a crime, Ardern said there were "already provisions in parts of the criminal justice code to treat hate speech as an exacerbating factor if that forms the basis of a crime".

Labour would also work with the Christchurch City Council, the Muslim community and iwi around the options for a memorial for the 15 March attacks, she says.

National Party leader Judith Collins says she won't commit to any specific hate speech laws.

"I'm very clear that our human rights legislation already deals with what needs to be dealt with."

She would read the Ministry of Justice's review of hate speech laws, but she says "I can tell you right now that the National Party I lead is not going to be adding further to a loss of or removal of freedom of speech in this country".

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