HKFP Voices Law & Crime

Equality watchdog chief: freedom of speech does not protect those who stir up race hatred

Following a recent court ruling, some people – dissatisfied with the judgment – verbally insulted the magistrate outside the court with derogatory names and remarks related to her race.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is highly concerned about this incident and strongly condemns such acts, which tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a cosmopolitan and multicultural city where equality and diversity are valued. Such discriminatory remarks and abuse may also constitute contempt of court and violate the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO).

frankly chu car

A chaotic scene outside court as reporters surrounded convicted ex-police superintendent Frankly Chu’s car, while police supporters and democracy activists shouted slogans with loudspeakers. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Hong Kong is a pluralistic and multicultural society. According to the 2016 Population By-census, ethnic Chinese people make up 92% of the population, while 8% of our city’s residents are non-Chinese. They include Caucasians, Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians, Japanese, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Thais, and other ethnic groups.

Between 2006 and 2016, the non-Chinese population increased drastically from 340,000 to 580,000. The growth rate fast exceeded that of the entire population. Many of these ethnic minorities were born and raised locally. Some of their families have made Hong Kong their home for several generations and contributed to both society and the economy.

Like ethnic Chinese residents in the city, they are “Hongkongers”. Yet, because of their race, they have to face stereotypes, prejudice, and unfair treatment in everyday life.

Currently, the RDO protects all people from discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of race. Since the Ordinance came into effect in 2009 and up to December 2017, the EOC had received a total of 617 complaints lodged under the RDO.

ethnic minorities minority

Photo: GovHK.

Many of these complaints were from the non-employment field; most of them related to the provision of goods, facilities or services, such as access to banking services and rental accommodation.

In the last two years, we have noted an increase in racial vilification cases. In 2017 alone, the EOC received 47 such complaints, most of which were lodged by non-Chinese people. In addition, some NGOs expressed to the EOC their concern over the sharp increase in abusive remarks on the Internet targeting non-refoulement protection claimants and ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

Online social media pages against “bogus refugees” have also sprung up. Some of the online remarks even threaten physical harm. As many non-refoulement protection claimants come from South Asia, some locally born and raised ethnic minorities have also become victims of discrimination and harassment.

Apart from online vilifying remarks, some individuals have also made derogatory racial remarks in public. Instances include using derogatory terms for people from the Mainland in the Legislative Council, and the incident where a magistrate was verbally insulted.

Under the RDO, which protects not only permanent residents of Hong Kong, but also all those who reside in Hong Kong, including tourists and non-refoulement protection claimants, it is unlawful to discriminate against, harass or vilify a person on the ground of his or her race.

‘Racial vilification’ is any activity in public which incites hatred, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person because of his or her race. Any racist incitement involving a threat of physical harm to people or their property is considered serious vilification and can lead to a fine or imprisonment under the RDO.

ethnic minority occupy

File photo: Minority Initiative Hong Kong.

Some people may think that residents of Hong Kong are entitled to freedom of speech under the Basic Law and can express racist remarks on their personal online social media pages without being penalised. However, freedom of speech does not protect hate speech. Any person who vilifies another on the grounds of race, whether verbally or in writing, may violate the RDO.

These remarks may include statements made on the Internet or communicated to the public in any form, such as broadcasting or playing documented materials, and any conduct observable by the public, such as displaying emblems and insignia.

Hong Kong is a modern, civilised city where freedom of speech is cherished. While individuals are free to express their views and opinions, it does not mean they can freely attack others because of racial differences. Our city will only progress when people listen to others’ voices with a broad mind and engage in rational discussions supported by facts.

What is more, we are living in a globalised world where economies, cultures, information, and above all, people are highly mobile. It is no longer possible for us to define ourselves narrowly by nationality and geography.

Hong Kong will only move forward as an international city, a financial hub and in terms of human rights if we uphold the values of diversity and inclusion, and show the rest of the world that we respect differences.

As a statutory body tasked with implementing the RDO, the EOC will continue to uphold this Ordinance and carry out public education in this regard. We will also continue to liaise with the Government on improving the RDO, including the recommendations we proposed in the Discrimination Law Review, so as to provide more comprehensive protection for the general public.

Equality watchdog chief: freedom of speech does not protect those who stir up race hatred