The United Nations and the United Kingdom have opposed the death penalty clause in the proposed National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill introduced by Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Sabi Abdullahi. The UN described the death penalty as barbaric, noting that its inclusion in the bill was unacceptable.
According to the bill, any person who violates the law shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.
But the spokesman, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Mr Olusola Macaulay, in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Thursday, said the global body would not support the bill, noting that a UNESCO advocacy group, Media and Information Literacy Coalition, would soon meet with the National Assembly over the proposed legislation. He said, “We are trying to pay an advocacy visit to the government and do some lobbying. There is a coalition working already, it was formed with the support of UNESCO.
“They are working to meet with the National Assembly to express their mind and possibly advise the government to have a different narrative to the issue of hate speech and fake news.” Macaulay also said the UN would lobby the Federal Government on the legislation, adding that what was needed is public enlightenment and education about hate speech and not a law stipulating the death penalty for violators.
He said, “I’m not sure what the government needs now is a bill or an idea to shut down people or prevent people from being able to express themselves or express their freedom of thought or information. What I think the government should do more is to enlighten the people.”
The UN agency said most Nigerians were ignorant of issues relating to media and information literacy, noting that a harsh law was not the solution to the challenge. The global body noted, “Every human being has the right to life and you cannot cut off people’s lives just because someone has expressed his opinion. Nobody is saying hate speech is good.
“Hate speech and fake news have been there from time immemorial and it is barbaric to say now that we want to hang people because they expressed their feelings or what they had in mind. So, censoring people or limiting people from participating in politics might not be the correct thing. As I said, the best thing to do is to educate the people.”
Macaulay queried the government for not holding politicians engaging in hate speech to account, noting that many of them had said things that could destabilise the country without being held liable. The British Government said it supports the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society, noting that it was following discussions around the proposed legislation closely.
Commenting on the bill in an emailed response to inquiries by The PUNCH on Wednesday, Her Majesty’s Government said while it takes a strong stand against hate speech which could incite violence and damage relationships within the society, it supports “the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society.”
The statement signed by the Senior Press and Public Affairs Officer, British High Commission, Abuja, Chris Ogunmodede, said, “The UK government is following discussions around the proposed Prohibition of Hate Speech bill closely.”
It added, “We take a strong stand against hate speech, which can incite violence and damage community relationships within society. We also strongly support the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society. “The UK strongly opposes the inclusion of the death penalty in any piece of legislation, as a matter of principle.”
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media