31 July, 2021

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Hate Speech Laws

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

[Opening Remarks on 2 June 2017 at a training programme for media personnel at the Jetwing Beach Hotel in Negombo]

Beverly Hagerdon, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you Beverly for the opportunity to address this August gathering. I also thank Australian Aid and USAID for being our sponsor through the International Federation of Electoral Systems, IFES. Many of our Election Commission’s activities are because of IFES’s largesse. So thank you indeed.

I am an electrical engineer who took to writing regular op-eds from the 1980s in US, India and Sri Lanka. Arjuna Ranawana started me with a contract with the Daily News. When the country deteriorated, Ranawana had left for Australia and huge paragraphs were being cut from my articles, I shifted to the Island and the Leader. So I understand your dilemmas in reporting on elections.

I want merely to say a few words on hate speech because media Ethics guidelines are being considered by the Election Commission. Hate speech is very common in our political context. I will focus on a minority perspective. Sri Lanka is full of hate speech whether over elections or not. We are particularly ignorant of defamation laws and need only to look at web-based discussion pages. India on the other hand is quite strict; perhaps too strict. We must learn from their experience.

Our culture is rather insensitive on hate speech. Take our everyday life. My bicycle repairmen, long dead now, was a mute or speech impaired as we would now say. Although he had a name, he was referred to as Mute (Oomai in Tamil). I never got to know his name. Going to him, we would ask “Is Mute in?” Boys looking for fun would deliberately anger him. He, unable to speak, would scold them in undecipherable sounds, which is what the boys wanted. And that was fun!

The school of a Head Teacher with childhood polio had his school nicknamed as “Crooked School” or Choththip Pallikoodam. He is long dead but the school is even today occasionally referred to by that egregious nickname. We pride ourselves as modern, but are really quite primitive and cruel. These terms like Oomai and Choththi were part of our normal discourse. While they did not widely enter our newspapers, their firm roots in our society show why hate speech in the press is difficult to stamp out.

To take another example, I was present when the candidature of the wife of an LTTE-er was discussed. There was concern that she would bring her politics into the party. Back came the reply: “Do not worry. If we shout at her twice, she will keep quiet.” She is today a successful politician although I do not agree with her on many things. The point is that women, given the chance, grow into their shoes.

A lot of hate speech has been written against me. A typically vicious document against me is from Oru Paper written when I was VC, Jaffna University: it was no less than an editorial in their English!

Hate speech insults and threatens the targeted group, makes them live in fear or shames them, making them hide who they are. All these ingredients are seen in the paragraph shown. Curiously, it is hate speech by minorities against minorities in their midst. Hate speech is not understood properly and is difficult to criminalise when even minorities do not understand the enormity underlying hate speech. Oru Paper is jointly published in Canada and the UK where the laws on hate speech are very strong. However, no prosecution was ever brought against the newspaper. For, who will dare to complain in this vicious system, especially when of minority status?

In hate speech debates, the competing norms have to do with the rights and safety of minorities on the one hand, and the freedom of speech and thought on the other. Hate speech targets people or a group of people based on their race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. What is commonly heard of women politicians makes quite obvious why we have only some 5% women in parliament.

Newspapers play a double game sometimes. For example, there was an instance when a Black man raped a White woman in the US. The man’s name was something race-neutral like Charles Brown. The public had a right to know that the assailant was Black. But revealing that may cause a race riot. Moreover, making that revelation would make people accuse the newspaper of fomenting trouble. So what did the newspaper do? They did not refer to Charles Brown’s race. Instead, they published his photograph. Now the newspaper could claim responsible reporting. Was that newspaper right in what it did? Or was it wrong?

In Sri Lanka, however, giving a person’s name is as good as giving his ethnicity. Even long standing Tamil names like Hoole, Warren, Kingsbury, Hemphil, Mann etc. from up my family tree are immediately understood as Tamil Christian. How will we address this problem of blaming an offender’s race, instead of him or her as an individual?

In describing the atrocious treatment of oppressed castes in Sri Lanka, to prove our point, we need to say such and such happened to so and so, a member of an oppressed caste. But if we cannot mention a person’s caste, how can we show, how can we prove, that there is caste-oppression? In the selection of candidates by parties caste is always a consideration. Can we report it? I have personally been troubled by this issue. I saw exposing the oppression as the greater good, compared to the disservice done in identifying a person as a member of an oppressed caste. I do not have all the right answers. But you certainly have a lot to think about.

Today, a respected and widely read newspaper in Jaffna, Valampuri, calls on all Tamil Christians to convert to Hinduism because the Editor claims Christianity to be alien to Tamils. The Chief Priest of the Nallai Adheenam asked the new VC of Jaffna University at his welcome meeting in Inuvil to make it Hindu. The former Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna told the UGC Chairman that there is no place for Christians. And the UGC Charman endorsed this atorcious idea. A Chief Minister defending in a Daily Mirror interview why he worships a criminal who was convicted of rape and murder in India, explained that Jesus Christ too was a condemned criminal. But Jesus never raped or murdered anyone. Many newspapers kept off these stories, doing the public a disservice in suppressing these hate crime stories.

Notice that hate speeh always puts down minorities. It is because the majority have the protection of their larger numbers. Minorities rarely will have the guts to say hateful things about the majority. For, if and when they do, they risk getting wiped out.

Minorities are therefore most often the target of hate speech. Hate speech laws, if any, would ostensibly be to protect minorities Yet, I am firmly against laws retricting hate crime. Why is that?

Consider law enforcement here. It is not race neutral. In as simple a matter as speeding tickets, going by my experience plying the A9 , minorities are ticketed the most (at least by proportion). I am driven about regularly. Tamil drivers immediately get down from the car and plead. They carry a small wad of Rupee 100 notes and get away. My Sinhalese drivers remain seated and smile and talk in Sinhalese, mention the Election Commission and are let off.

Driving at 60 kmph 14 km towards Anuradhapura of Puttalam, I was ticketed by a policeman showing a radar reading of 72 kmph. I had to pay a Rs. 1100 fine because to tell the judge of the crooked cops, I would have had to make a few trips to court there. Driving to Galle Road from Marine drive one night, the one-way sign had fallen off. The Tamil driver in front was ticketed. My Sinhalese driver talked his way out. I can cite several such examples, but need not I think.

Again the lack of prosecution against killers in the northeast is well documented, Gnanasara Thero who has said unkind things against Muslims, it is reported, is being protected in a Minister’s house while the police claim to look for him.

These should explain why I do not want hate crime laws. Such laws will never protect minorities and at the same time curtail free speech by minorities. Every time I raise difficulties that minorities face, the response is that I am promoting communalism and communal division.  Thus with hate speech laws in place, even the little we get to say will be suppressed.

Moreover, enforcement will be unsymmetric. Strong laws in the hands of nonneutral judges can be misused. For example in the Bible, Jesus Christ says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Could that last part about no one coming to the Father except through Jesus be interpreted as a hate crime to ban the Bible? I believe it can be, by a biased judge. Something similar happened to a preacher in Singapore when I was working there. It is clear how hate speech laws can affect freedom of thought and religious freedom with it.

I need not say more, need I? Thank you.

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Latest comments

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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      Summary about the updaes on HATE SPEECHS LED BY BBSt

      Rajapakshe emotions would not work against HATE SPEECHES or those who incite them. So their emotions should be one sided.

      Current rulers are THOUGH against hate speech holders, they seem to be not powerful enough to punish them yet. How many more days the victimized parties to wait ?

      Even day before yestreday aggressive Ghanasara, added his usual sinhala filthy on the govt. But police has been repeating thatthe guy is being the focus of the govt.

      All in all, nothing MUCH seems to improve in terms of taking action against HATE speeches and their activities.

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    You are talking about political correctness without talking many facors leading oto those. 60 Km/hr is certainly high speed in most sri lankan roads as those roads are not built for vehicle traffic. In a winding road you can certainly kill a few people. Another point is you need to read your articles twice. How you talk about tamils doing evrrything by Tamils in Sri lanka. Everyone is not taught to be politically correct. So, how do you expect people to be correct when the other person is biased. As you worked in the west, you need to tell whether you were treated fair every time instead of blaming and writing unfair articles.

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      The speed limit on the Puttalam — A’pura Road is 70 km/hr. It is a good road, newly built for such speeds

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    If someone has a certain viewpoint, they will find a way to reinforce that viewpoint. Reinforcement is very easy with the Internet. So, you will have to further increase the level of censorship to actually enforce the hate speech laws. If you allow the Government to censor Internet traffic, as is the case in China, then this leads to new problems, as much more than hate speech gets censored.

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    To what category do all the nasty attacks on candidates for the University of Jaffna election, especially Prof Srisatkunarajah, and among others Prof Sivasegaram, during the now unceremoniously dumped campaign for Prof Sam Thiagalingam belong?
    Prof Srisatkunarajah, I reliably understand, was also vilified in various ways to ensure that he was not appointed VC.

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      What kind of ceremony should have been held before dumping a campaign?

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    Gnasara is supposed to have insulted Allah. Can a Muslim please tell me if the following oft repeated quote of the famous atheist Richard Dawkins in America constitutes hate speech:

    ““The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” ——–

    What the backward Muslims should know is that not a single Christian in the whole world gets upset by reading this. But if the “God of the Old Testament ” is replaced with “Allah of the Quran” the whole world is ignited. Muslims are trying to intimidate us. ——- We will fight against hate speech laws. If Rachard Dawkins is free to say that in America we are free to say the same in Sri Lanka. To those Muslims who demand hate speech laws I say go fly a kite. ———Soma

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      If Gnassara had told that there is no entity called Allah, it is not hate speech, but he said “Allah kiyala Ballekwath ne”. If Gnanassara had told that there is no remains of Allah here, it is not hate speech, but he said, “Allage labba mehe ne”. Srilanka is Buddhist country where Buddha is held as the supreme being, and if anyone says that anybody else is great, that amounts to hate speech.

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        Al faq, the word ‘GOD’ written in reverse order is ‘DOG’. Once in Australia I happened to visit a well publisised dog show and the catch phrace of the show was “IN DOG WE TRUST” an obvious mock reference to the phrace “IN GOD WE TRUST”. Not a man or a dog protested. Neither God.—-Soma

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    A better pill to swallow but needs saying. Good on you and good article.

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    From one point of view, you may be right. We have Laws against Corruption which are treated with scant respect by the Law makers themselves, followed by those charged with implementing the Laws.

    But does that mean that we should have No Laws against Corruption?

    Fact is, there will be Laws and Law-breakers, big and small. To do away with Laws, only because there will be those who violate them, does NOT seem to be a valid argument.

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    S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole: “Hate Speech Laws” is yet another one of these Hoole stuff – about himself and next to nothing on subject matter! What the hell has “Oomai” or “Choththi” to do with Hate Speech? Hoole says “………..I was present when the candidature of the wife of an LTTE-er was discussed…….”. Present where? What is the relevance of “wife of” here? More importantly relevance to Hate Speech? At one stage he says “………A typically vicious document against me is from Oru Paper written when I was VC, Jaffna University…….”. His name is NOT on the list of past Jaffna University VCs! Hoole will of course come up with a garbled explanation.
    The paragraph “Today, a respected and widely read newspaper in Jaffna, Valampuri, …………..” is a Hoole selective interpretation bordering on Hate Writing. He gives his experience with traffic police to arrive at the concluding statement “These should explain why I do not want hate crime laws”.

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      Pillai, you know well that the USAB ordered the University to include the writer’s name among the list of VCs. Does not the Jaffna University’s failure in this regard say something quite disturbing? If you don’t like the article, that is fine, but your criticism has little substance. It just shows that you have a strong drive to regularly insult the writer for other reasons. The writer’s contention that laws against hate speech have been used to target, rather than protect, minorities is the common experience of the minorities. Simply look at the PTA! What is selective about the criticism of Valampuri? Is it not similar to hatred spewed against Muslims in India by the Hindutva crowd because they are supposed to have converted to an alien faith?

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        Mr or Ms To the Point: Did SRH Hoole ever sit in Jaffna University VC’s office let alone preside/conduct a Council meeting? I said the his name is not on the list of VCs of JC. Who or what is USAB? You accuse me of having an urge to insult SRH H. Criticisms may often be construed as insults. Mahindapala for example keeps playing the Vellala caste card. Izeth the spectre of Indian influence. It is clear that both cater for a certain group. SRH H plays this Christian card – here to impress Beverly Hagerdon. GTF is headed by Fr SJ Emmanuel. Sumathiran is Christian and so was SJV C. Does anyone mention their religion? Never heard or read “The Oru” – a Canadian/UK publication. Hint: A certain self-styled terrorism expert Ranjan Gunaratne was sued in Canada and awarded damages. The Valampuri paragraph is particularly naughty. Veracity doubtful. SRH H quotes this with Goebbelsian fervor. Hindutva bigotry is a class on its own. Yet to meet a Uma Bharati or a Yogi Adithyanath in SL.

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    Mate, Jeevan: Can you confirm that Professor Atputharajah worked for the Ceylon Electricity Board as a consultant? If not, all what you talked about in your earlier article also falls under ‘hate speech’ category. Is it true that Prof Atputharajah requested you to work together for the betterment of the students and you are not capable of doing that and he asked you to consider staying away? You HATE him for that since!

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    /I need not say more, need I? Thank you.

    Is i t the last time that we hear from you? Oh, I need to say ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you….’ many more times.

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    Hoole Says: “The former Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna told the UGC Chairman that there is no place for Christians.” . . . . . . . .****
    This tale has been narrated many times. But no evidence has thus far been provided except for something Hoole claims to have seen. . . . . .**** Certainly his “source” can come up with the evidence if the claim is true.

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      Reply SJ: The former VC JU is ALLEGED to have said “…….no place for Christians” – corroborated by the now infamous born-again Irrationalist Carlo Fonseka (who also claims that Jaffna Library was set on fire by LTTE!)

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        The words are: “The former Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna told the UGC Chairman that there is no place for Christians. And the UGC Chairman endorsed this atrocious idea.”. . . . . ****
        Both claims need evidence.
        Surely, good old Carlo F can provide a copy of the piece of paper that he is supposed to have shown the writer.

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          Stand corrected SJ. The word ALLEGED was not there. Carlo F? Like “Lizard being a witness to the cadjan Fence” or something like that.

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      Don’t trust both being rabble rousers carrying chips for cheap publicity. Any topic is good enough for these so called intellectuals. God reigns from his throne.

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    Lanka is not ready for “Hate Speech Laws” because the fundamental requisite “Law and Order” is wanting. Hate Speech Law can be used as yet another tool to harass opponents. More dangerous than Hate Speech is rumor-mongering in which something is propagated but certain sensitive information/s is knowingly or otherwise withheld. Fake News is yet another issue.

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    Hate speech if limited to hate speech ONLY may be ok. But it is not merely hate speech when the lives or properties of the people they hate are destroyed. That is the limit.

    This Gnanasara terrorist in convenient saffron robes gets Muslim properties destroyed is not mere hate speech. When I say with other members of Buddhist clergy and Maha Sangha remaining silent and without derobing this terrorist, and further claiming they practice pure Buddhism I am made to believe as a non Buddhist this is what Buddha said to do to lead a good life and that is what ‘Buddhism’ is about and told Buddhism is a way of life not a religion and what I spoke my mind cannot be ‘hate speech’ but ‘logical interpretation’!

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    Problem of Muslims not hate speech , inciting violence by Gnanasaara.

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      Sharef ,Better Know How To Address A Monk …………What Is The Violence Gnanasara Thero Has Created…………….Allowing You Extremists To Invade All The Buddhist Heritage And To Keep Quite ………….If Not For The GOSL deals With Muslim Extremist Ministers The Law And Order Would Have Cleared all These Issues and taken Action………..But GOd Will Give Justice In The Very Near future

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