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Hate Talk Uproar

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Hate Talk Uproar Feroz Gulam Mohammed

A provisional National Federation Party candidate for the 2018 General Election has created an uproar by saying hate speech based on a person’s ethnicity and religion should be allowed under free speech.

Nakasi businessman Feroz Gulam Mohammed said: “I think they should be allowed to speak. It’s part of free speech. It is 100 per cent justified,” he said.

But Ashwin Raj, director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC), slammed Mr Mohammed for his comments.

Mr Mohammed said: “I would love to know more (from) critics. If out of 100 people 99 talk against me, I would love to hear that – that’s the only way I can improve it.”

Noticing a spike in hate speech against Muslims, he said the Government was partly to blame for it.

“So far in Fijian politics the (kind of) hate speech I have seen is against Muslims; I haven’t seen any against Christians or Hindus,” Mr Mohammed added.

Senior Government officials, along with Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, have recently raised concerns about hate speech on social media.

Mr Raj said: “It is again highly ironic that while the leader of the NFP is embroiled in a very public exchange with the director of the HRADC about racism and religious intolerance, one of his confirmed candidates for the 2018 General Elections has unabashedly stated that hate speech based on race and religion is justified on the grounds of freedom of expression,” he said.

Mr Raj said the NFP candidate should substantiate the claim that Government was to blame for the verbal attacks on Muslims.

He said: “We now have the leader of the NFP, a confirmed candidate of the NFP and the secretary of the Fiji Labour Party making these claims. I think it’s high time the Police investigated these claims.

“It is precisely because of Fiji’s long history of racial and religious intolerance and institutionalised racism, that the Fijian Constitution while guaranteeing freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication expressly prohibits advocacy of hatred based on any prohibited ground of discrimination including references to race and religion.

“This was affirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who incidentally will be visiting Fiji later this week.

“In a statement issued on the International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination the High Commissioner said:

‘…States have no excuse for allowing racism and xenophobia to fester, much less flourish. They have the legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee the right to everyone, no matter their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law.

‘States should adopt legislation expressly prohibiting racist hate speech, including the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, and threats or incitement to violence.

‘It is not an attack on free speech or the silencing of controversial ideas or criticism but a recognition that the right to freedom of expression carries it with special duties and responsibilities’.

“Politicians who insist on advocating hatred and propagating hate speech contrary to the Fijian Constitution in their desperate attempts to influence voters will face the full brunt of the law. Fiji cannot be held a prisoner to its racist and bigoted history in perpetuity.”

NFP leader Biman Prasad said he would only comment once he saw the video for himself. He said it was important to remember that the candidates were only provisional for now.

“Politicians who insist on advocating hatred and propagating hate speech contrary to the Fijian Constitution in their desperate attempts to influence voters will face the full brunt of the law. Fiji cannot be held a prisoner to its racist and bigoted history in perpetuity.”

Mr Mohammed has been active on social media campaigning for Nakasi to be converted into a township, saying the locality deserved more for what they contributed to the country.

Mr Mohammed, who has been a businessman for nearly 30 years, said, if elected, the public could expect a reliable and honest man in Parliament who listened to the people.

He said he expected around 60 to 70 per cent of his votes from Nakasi.

“I go door-to-door and they’ve (Nakasi residents) have been encouraging me to this for last 7-8 years,” he said

“I do a lot of charity work and when I do that I do it for all and not just Muslims.” He added that the party had “bulletproof” plans to address national issues, especially health care.

In a public Facebook post, with over 3000 reactions and 143 comments, on January 28, the politician wrote about his intentions to hold a public meeting about his plan for Nakasi.

While quite a few people appeared satisfied with the content of the post, Mr Mohammed seemed hostile towards those that did not.

He asked one user, if he was “Kaiyum’s kind” before telling him not to comment.

Another user was told not to comment because he was “Kaiyum’s Lover.”

“Since my name was announced I haven’t written anything like that,” he said.

“There’s also a lot of cut and paste that’s going on so I really don’t know. Just this morning I put up (on my profile) that someone was trying to hack my account.

“But the elections office said there’s no election (date) in place so it’s not a campaign therefore I can say whatever I want.”

He also made a claim in the same section that the Sigatoka Hospital, without specifying a date, did not have oxygen. He said a family member had informed him.

However, Senior Divisional Medical Officer at the hospital, Doctor Amos Zibran, said no incident had occurred.

Mr Mohammed also suggested the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services sent him e-mails every time he made a post on social media.

But chief executive officer Visvanath Das rubbished the claim, saying they profiled people in a much different way and not through social media.

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka said: “I do not contribute to hate speeches and many hate posts have been directed at me, but i do not respond. I will not stoop that low! “

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