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The Senate on Tuesday recommended that culprits of any form of hate speech should be penalised to die by hanging if convicted.
The Senate also provided that any person found guilty of the criminal act should be accorded life jail sentence and or five years imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the hate speech.These severe penalties are provided in the proposed bill to establish the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech which passed first reading in Senate on Tuesday.
The bill which was introduced for the first time in plenary was sponsored by Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu (Niger North) has come under criticisms amongst Nigerians including activists.
In an Interview with NewsWireNGR, Idayat Hassan, a director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organization with focus on deepening democracy and development in West Africa said “The bill is an act to stifle freedom of expression and further restrict the civic space”.
“While I agree that the internet has allowed some unruly persons to peddle hate and information. However the same online space have given voice to the previously voiceless thereby deepening democracy. We can’t legislate away all the problems in this country instead government should focus on providing basic goods and services to the people” she added.
According to the Bill, “hate speeches are comments that insult people for their religion, ethnic, linguistic affiliation, racial contempt among others.”
By the establishment of the commission, if the bill is enacted, hate speech would become criminalised and the severe penalties shall be applied to offenders.
Also, the Bill, if enacted, would provide the offenders an option of fine to the huge sum of N10 million. The Bill is expected to eradicate all manner of hate speeches peddled by individuals or organisations.
This would further ensure that hate speeches against ethnic nationalities or persons become a serious unpardonable crime.
Activists, Deji Adeyanju in an interview with NewsWireNGR, said the bill is an aberration and attempt by the Nigerian government in collaboration with their rubber stamp National Assembly to stifle free speech and create fears in the minds of Nigerians who daily, are now asking for accountability from those they elected to lead.
“We already have laws that deal extensively with what they are proposing. The defamation, libel and other related laws were enacted strictly for this,” Mr Adeyanju added.
He said Nigeria is a Democrat state! And in any practicing democracy, people have the fundamental rights to hold an opinion without being gagged or hounded.
“Nigeria is signatory to different treaties that upholds the fundamental right of citizens to freely express themselves. Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ” he maintained.
According to Article 19 of the UDHR, it states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.