Guide for how to deal with cases of incitement to hatred

“A clearer approach is needed for states on how to address incitement to hatred in domestic laws, and how to practically assess individual cases,” writes ARTICLE 19 as the organisation published a 52-pages policy guidelines to do just that: to set out a clear path forward on the issues of when to prohibit freedom of expression because of incitement to hatred.

When does speaking freely become incitement to hatred? When should a state act to restrict speech? International law protects freedom of speech and requires the prohibition of expression that incites discrimination, hostility or violence (incitement to hatred).

A clearer approach is needed for states on how to address incitement to hatred in domestic laws, and how to practically assess individual cases. On 3 December 2012, ARTICLE 19 unveiled policy guidelines to do just that, and to set out a clear path forward on this issue. The guidelines propose a six part test to assess potential cases of incitement.

ARTICLE 19 looks at the case of Pussy Riot in Russia in order to explain why the test is needed:

Pussy Riot case: fails the test
Three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were jailed in August 2012 after an impromptu performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a Russian orthodox church in Moscow. The women bowed down on the altar before they started singing a song praying to the Virgin Mary to drive Russia’s President Putin away. Cathedral security guards ended the performance 40 seconds after it began. In August 2012, Khamovnichesky District Court in Moscow found them guilty of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

Although it is also possible that the Orthodox Church and some Christians might have been offended by the actions of Pussy Riot, it does not amount to incitement to hatred prohibited by international law. The correct application of the ARTICLE 19 standard would reveal that this action failed the six part test.

Global confusion
“We have witnessed global confusion about how to deal with this issue. Governments struggle to find a way to protect freedom of expression but prevent incitement,” said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director since 2004:

“Far too often, overly broad and vague interpretations of incitement have been used to stifle legitimate free speech. At the same time many states are unable to adequately deal with forms of expression that lead to violence, or that undermine the right to equality. We have worked hard to develop a practical way to support states navigate these difficult issues,” she added.

About Article 19
Article 19 was established in 1987 to defend the right to freedom of expression. The organisation designs and promotes laws and policies that protect free expression, holding abusers and governments to account, and advocates for legal reforms, demanding transparency and accountability. Article 19 employs more than 70 people in offices worldwide, and has programmes working in Asia Pacific, Central America, East Africa, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, South America, and West Africa.

Read the guide

Prohibiting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence – Policy Brief
PDF, 52 pages

Article 19 – 3 December 2012:
ARTICLE 19 unveils a practical guide for dealing with cases of incitement to hatred



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