Society of Black Lawyers takes Hopkins, Murdoch, and LBC to the International Criminal Court
Freedom of speech is not a shield to be used at the expense of the rights of others, says lawyers group
The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has increased the pressure on controversial columnist and public hate figure, Katie Hopkins, by filing evidence with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging incitement by her, and her employers, to persecute migrants.
The SBL has taken the unprecedented step of filing the allegation against the owner of the Sun newspaper, Rupert Murdoch, the paper’s editor, David Dinsmore, and the owner of Global Radio (LBC), Ashley Tabor, as well as Hopkins herself.
The group argues that Hopkins’ use of the word ‘cockroach’ to describe migrants in a Sun column adopts a term used during the Rwanda genocide to ridicule, demonise, and target the Tutsi minority and Hutu moderates.
Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and RTLM radio regularly used the term which was copied by many Hutu leaders in the run-up to the genocide. The SBL maintains that this would have been known to ‘even the most ill-informed journalist, newspaper editor, or media owner’.
Further, the SBL argue that, together with its online presence and sales of over 4 million copies per day, the Sun, along with LBC’s national radio presence, would have an impact far greater than RTLM or Kangura had in Rwanda.
Chair of the SBL, Dr Peter Herbert OBE, said: ‘The de humanising comments by the Sun newspaper, and repeated on LBC radio, poured scorn on the lives of these migrants as if their survival was of no consequence. Words which equate human beings to some sort of insect pest, coupled with expressions of cruelty are an encouragement to commit persecution and even genocide.
‘It does not matter whether the violence actually followed as long as it was reasonably foreseeable. Acts of violence committed by people traffickers or others are encouraged and legitimised by these words and must be punished under international law.’
Shireen Khan, an SBL spokesperson, added: ‘Targeting those who cannot answer back is cowardly and reminiscent of the worst language of the 20th century genocide, where those that incite persecution and crimes against humanity, are as guilty as those who wield the gun or machete.’
‘This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.
‘This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long,’ he said.
Barrister Chuka Udemezue said that the SBL respected freedom of speech but with that right came a responsibility to act with regard to the rights and freedoms of others.
‘Whether it is the words and expressions of hate used by the Sun newspaper, the racist front pages of Charlie Hebdo, or the allegedly misquoted words of a Zulu king, this type of hate speech, which amounts to incitement to persecution, must be punished. History will judge us harshly if we pretend these words have no effect on the conduct of others,’ he remarked.
Monique Noel, a legal consultant and SBL member, added: ‘This is a necessary legal challenge to the racist incitement of a leading UK tabloid newspaper and national radio talk show to demonstrate that hate speech which amounts to incitement and subsequent persecution cannot be transmitted with impunity.
‘The morality, ethos, and law is clear that freedom of speech is not a shield that can be deployed at the expense of the rights and freedoms of others. No part of the media or oligarch is above the law. The message has to be sent out loud and clear that migrants from Africa are just as human as the next person and their lives and dignity should be valued as such.’
The SBL has already reported Hopkins and the Sun to the Metropolitan Police under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986. Herbert told SJ that it was ‘high time’ the law was enforced and, even if it did not result in a prosecution, the fact that there was an investigation and a potential arrest would regulate journalists far better than any ‘moral exultation’.
SJ also exclusively revealed that the SBL had plans to report any barrister or solicitor who authorised Hopkins’ column to their respective legal regulator.
This is not the first time Herbert and the SBL have issued a letter of complaint over race issues. In 2012, Herbert told BBC Radio 5 live the FA was ‘institutionally racist’ and had ‘no hate-crime strategy’ after alleged racist comments made by referee Mark Clattenburg were not referred to the police.
Also in 2012, the SBL warned fans of Tottenham Hotspur that they will face charges for chanting ‘yid’ at Spurs games. Three fans were initially charged in the autumn of 2013; however, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the words could not legally be counted as ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ in the circumstances and the charges were dropped.
Also in 2013, Herbert wrote a four-page letter of complaint to the FA, demanding that England manager Roy Hodgson attend a race appreciation training course after he told a joke about a space monkey.
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