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Hate speech not a criminal offence, says Ombudsman

Hate speech not a criminal offence, says Ombudsman

Zorena Jantze

 

THE Ombudsman, Advocate John Walters has clarified that there is currently no legal definition or punishment for claims of hate speech against Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) Secretary Ephraim Nekongo, who called homosexuality demonic and satanic.

 

Walters made these remarks in response to a petition handed to his office by the Equal Rights Namibia movement.

 

The movement in its petition noted that it is disheartening to witness the silence from Members of Parliament in the
face of such violent discrimination.

 

The co-founder of the movement, Omar van Reenan in the letter penned to the Ombudsman stated “Your office has a mandate to serve in the best interest of any minority group,” he said.

 

Hate speech criminal offence Advocate John Walters Ombudsman
Pictured: Ombudsman, Advocate John Walters. Photo: File

 

Van Reenan quoted Article 91, which states that the duty of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints concerning alleged or apparent instances of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, abuse of power, unfair, harsh, insensitive or discourteous treatment of an inhabitant of Namibia by an official in the employ of any organ of Government – whether central or local – manifest injustice, or corruption or conduct by such official which would properly be regarded as unlawful, oppressive or unfair in a democratic society.

 

“This form of violent hate speech has consequences, not only on the human dignity of vulnerable Namibians [Article 8]3, which further unfairly targets LGBTQ+ Namibians, reinforces societal prejudice and severely increases the human rights violation of this minority group. Most importantly, it is repugnant to our democracy and the Namibian
Constitution to further limit the fundamental rights of a minority group, our Constitution calls to further protect, not ostracize,” he said.

 

In response, Walters noted that he met up with the members the Equal rights movement and stated that his office is currently working through the petition and demands made.

 

“I would like to emphasize that my time in office is running out. However, I’m helping to address the matter where I can. Currently there is no definition of hate speech in Namibian law, nor is it a criminal offence. The only thing one can do is open a case of defamation or file a civil suit,” Walters noted.

 

He further noted that currently people just generalize hate speech as offensive and hurtful words which may at times invite violence against the victims.

 

“I cannot pronounce myself on the matter right now, however, we are looking at the list of complaints holistically,” Walters concluded.

 

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