Malawi Law Commission asked to reform laws on hate speech

Written by  Mirriam Kaliza

The Malawi Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Malawi Law Commission should consider reforming the penal code to specifically criminalize hate speech.

Sefu: Asked the victim to make an application Sefu: Asked the victim to make an application

This recommendation follows reports that made rounds in the social media that a British citizen Michael Harper made some insulting remarks towards a maid on a facebook post early this month calling her a slave. Meanwhile, the Commission has suggested that Harper must make a public apology in the media.

For the past week, social media has been awash with screenshots taken from a facebook post from a closed group known as Lilongwe Expats Leaving/Arriving where a Mrs Pennie Ginn, an Austrian national posted that she was worried that their Malawian nanny, Gloria Misesa was going to be a victim of expatriate movements since the family was moving back to their country.

Ginn went on to explain how good the nanny is to her children and was in a way recommending her to other families who may need such a nanny to consider engaging her services.

“She has loved our nearly four year old son for three years, cared for my newborn baby girl with tenderness and even looked after our cheeky dogs,” reads part of the post.

Several people made comments on the same, but one particular comment made by Michael Harper a British national caught the attention of many Malawians including Civil Society Organisations.

Harper at the center of controversy

Harper in his comment asked the Ginn Family why they could not take Gloria whom he called their “slave” with them to Australia.

“Hey why don’t you take your slave with you? Just a thought,” commented Harper.

This fuelled anger and condemnation from Malawians with many calling on government to act by sending Harper packing because they felt his racist comment was an insult to Malawians.

The development moved the Human Rights Commission to institute a public inquiry on the matter which found that Harper’s comment was a human rights violation against Ms Misesa and the Ginn family and has potential of disrupting peaceful human interaction, right to dignity and right to equality and non-discrimination which is guaranteed by the constitution of Malawi and other international instruments.

However the Commission also found out that Malawian laws including the penal code does not criminalise hate speech, hence the need for a review on such laws.

MHRCC Commissioner Bertha Sefu further advised the victim to consider making an application to the courts to enforce their right to access legal remedies.

“At this point we leave everything in the hands of the Attorney General, his office is the one which would decide whether to deport him or not,” commented the Commissioner

Gloria was called a "slave" in Harper's comment

The victim in question Gloria Misesa said that she will take the route as advised by the Commission. She therefore expressed that the remarks made by Mr Harper made her feel less human in her own country.

“The remarks really made me sad, I never expected it, my boss was only trying to recommend me for a job and not what someone decided to comment,” explained Misesa.

Harper who was seemingly apologetic said he will read the document and act on it accordingly while further explaining that he never meant to hurt anyone.

“It wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone, I am apologetic but I can understand where we are today,” said Harper.

The Commission has also asked the Ministry of Information and Communication to facilitate the enactment of a legislation that will regulate the use of social media in the country.

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