Row over song ‘highlights need for hate speech laws’

Fred Smith

Fred Smith

THE uproar sparked by a controversial song making the rounds on social media demonstrates the urgent need for hate speech laws in The Bahamas, prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, said yesterday.

Mr Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA), said that while the song in question would not meet internationally recognised definitions of hate speech, the outrage and confusion it sparked highlights why The Bahamas must move quickly to establish its own parameters and limits for free expression.

“Let me be clear: I believe the song in question was in very poor taste and extremely insulting to Prime Minister Christie and his family,” he said. “It also featured some horrible references to women and those who struggle with disabilities. However, as it did not seek to threaten, intimidate or encourage violence against any particular social group, it does not qualify as hate speech.

“Leaving aside the dangerous, reckless and woefully ill-conceived suggestion of criminal libel, the fact is that there is nothing illegal about the song. Obviously, though, many people – including perhaps the prime minister – assumed that it did qualify as hate speech, or at the very least that some other criminal act had been committed.

“One of those arrested in connection with the song said the police accused him of trying to ‘destabilise the government.’ Well, that is not a crime either – regardless of how Ministers (Fred) Mitchell and (Jerome) Fitzgerald may seek to give it institutional and political currency in Parliament.”

Mr Smith believes the “confusion, misunderstanding and wild legal speculation” that erupted in the wake of the song’s release can be traced to the legal vacuum that exists in the Bahamas concerning the limits of freedom of expression.

“What can you legally say in The Bahamas? What can you not say? No one seems to know. Certainly, the police don’t seem to know, the politicians don’t seem to know. It must be a distressing situation for all concerned – particularly Mr Christie,” he said.

Mr Smith said he appreciates how the prime minister must feel as over the past few years, he and other local activists were targeted by a series of intimidating public hate rallies, yet their numerous complaints to police fell on deaf ears.

“The members and directors of the environmental group Save The Bays were the victims of in a sustained campaign of threats, intimidation and incitement to violence. We say it was hate speech, yet the police did nothing.

“The supporters of Prime Minister Christie say the rap song was hate speech. In that instance, the police arrested (two people) and sought to charge with them with every offence under the sun, only to release them without charge.”

“Clearly, the time has come to clarify this issue once and for all by enacting balanced, sensible and comprehensive hate speech laws in accordance with international standards.”

Mr Smith said everyone who expressed outrage over the song and called for criminal charges to be leveled against the singers should to join the GBRHA in seeking to convince legislators to prioritise anti-hate speech laws.

“There is no point in railing and denouncing on social media, inventing imaginary charges and calling for people to be buried under the prison,” he said. “All that sound and fury is totally useless and absolutely meaningless in the absence of a rational legal framework to govern this issue,” he said.

Last week, police arrested two men in connection with the song. Both men - who spoke with The Tribune on Sunday - were later released and maintained their innocence.


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