I READ with concern the calls for a law to address hate speech.
Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen said the term “hate speech” was difficult to define.
There is no way to define hate speech in a legal sense.
An attempt to do so would only subject us to laws that ultimately put us on the precipice of confusion whenever there is an urge to say something and perhaps, to an extent, even jeopardise our exercise of the right to free speech.
This is because “hate speech” is a construct, not a tangible action. It is very much a “he says, she says” dynamic. My truth will be different from yours, what I consider hate speech, you may consider an exercise of your right under Article 10 of the Constitution, and vice versa.
A recent example of ambiguities that may arise in defining words and/or phrases that are more like concepts is the case of public prosecutor v. Karpal Singh in 2012.
There was a protracted consideration of the word “sedition”/“seditious tendency” and what would amount to an offence under the then Section 3 of the Sedition Act 1948.
A new “law” to curb hate speech is a reimagining of existing laws that have the same effect as the proposed new law.
There is legislation to address hate speech — Section 504 and Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, Section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988 and Section 3(1) of the Sedition Act 1948.
Another law, even one that is specific to hate speech, may only increase fear and incite trepidation in exercising our communal right to free speech.
PARVEEN KAUR HARNAM
Advocate and solicitor, High Court of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur