Peter Tatchell joins fight against the Hate Crime bill

Veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has joined the Free to Disagree campaign as an official ally.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights group headed by Mr Tatchell, has also given its support.

Peter is a strong advocate of free speech and the right to protest. In the past, he has campaigned against Westminster legislation that would have undermined these fundamental rights.

Commenting on the Hate Crime bill, he said:

“The bill is very good in some respects. It repeals the ancient law of blasphemy which has been on the statute book for hundreds of years. It also helpfully consolidates hate crime law. But when it comes to the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ there are problems.

“Hatred is not defined. What some people may see as hatred, others may see as robust and valid criticism. The new ‘stirring up’ hate offence does not require the person to have intended to cause hate. So there’s no guarantee that someone charged would be able to defend themselves on the grounds that it wasn’t their intention to cause hatred. Moreover, an offence is committed if words or actions are “likely” to stir hatred. This means that a crime can be committed even if there is no proof that hatred was actually stirred up.

“The police in Scotland will be put in the unenviable position of having to decide what constitutes hate and what crosses the line. People may say things to mock or criticise another person for extremely valid reasons but the person on the receiving end, or other witnesses not directly affected, may decide what they said is hateful and report it to the police. Dealing with vexatious complaints and hurt feelings should not be part of Police Scotland’s remit.”

Mr Tatchell added:

“The Hate Crime bill casts the net too wide. Edgy comedians like Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle could be caught. These comics often make controversial jokes about people or ideas that are not actually intended to hurt others but could easily meet the threshold of an offence.

“Plays, artworks and exhibitions could also fall foul of the law. A feminist artist who produces a piece that critiques the ‘patriarchy of religion’ could potentially be prosecuted for ‘stirring up hatred’ against people of faith. Surely that’s not the way we want to go. We need to maintain freedom of artistic expression. The bill in its current form does not provide adequate safeguards and protections.

“There has been a huge backlash against the ‘stirring up of hatred’ proposals in Scotland. We are now hoping and expecting that the Scottish Government will think again; that they’ll take into account the various concerns raised and make appropriate amendments.”

A spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, said:

“We’re very glad to have Peter as an ally of the campaign. He’s been a strong defender of free speech for many years and has successfully countered previous attempts to curb this democratic right at Westminster.

“As a supporter of Free to Disagree, Mr Tatchell joins a diverse range of groups and individuals, including the National Secular Society, The Christian Institute, and former SNP MP Jim Sillars in criticising the Hate Crime bill. The breadth of opposition to the Government’s plans shows just how problematic they are. Ministers must think again.”


Notes for Editors

The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by:

  • Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party;
  • The National Secular Society; 
  • The Christian Institute; 
  • Peter Tatchell;
  • The Peter Tatchell Foundation;
  • Dr Stuart Waiton, criminologist, Abertay University;
  • Madeleine Kearns, journalist and commentator.

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