“Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has appeared in court at the start of his trial on terrorism charges. The 47-year-old, who denies any involvement in terrorism, has been held at Belmarsh prison since May 2004…. He faces 10 charges alleging he solicited people at meetings to murder non-Muslims, including Jews. A further four charges allege he used ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred’.”
Though the question of Abu Hamza’s guilt remains open, of course, it might be noted that the latter four charges are under Section 18(1) of the 1986 Public Order Act, which states:
“A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if –
(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or
(b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred by thereby.”
The current Racial and Religious Hatred Bill proposes to amend this so that “racial hatred” becomes “racial or religious hatred”. At the risk of repetition, the purpose is to extend to Muslims and Hindus the right to protection from hatred presently enjoyed by Jews and Sikhs under the Act.
If, as its critics allege, the Bill represents a terrible attack on the right to free speech, it is difficult to see how they can in all consistency refuse to condemn the suppression of free speech under the existing racial hatred sections of the 1986 Act.
We look forward to Nick Cohen, Melanie Phillips, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Harry’s Place et al publishing indignant articles defending Abu Hamza’s democratic right to incite hatred against Jews without action being taken against him under the Public Order Act.