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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 04:50 GMT
Peer doubts race hate law resolve
Lord Ahmed
Ministers have not delivered on previous promises, the peer says
The will of ministers to tighten laws on racial hatred has been questioned by Muslim Labour peer Lord Ahmed.

Several ministers called for a review of the legislation after the BNP's leader was cleared of stirring up racial hatred in remarks about Islam.

But Lord Ahmed said the government had not delivered on previous promises to the Muslim community on race hate laws.

It was time for the government to start treating Muslims equally and not like "subjects of a colony", he said.

Lord Ahmed told the BBC that the government had made unfulfilled promises to the Muslim community earlier this year when a new law on religious and racial hatred was watered down as a result of a Commons defeat.

The peer said ministers should have shown more determination to push their measures through.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act of earlier this year made it an offence to stir up hatred on religious grounds, and amended the law on encouraging racial hatred.
It applies to the display, publication, broadcast or distribution of words or behaviour that is likely to stir up religious or racial hatred.
Prosecutors must still prove a criminal intent behind the words, rather than simply "recklessness" as the government had originally proposed.
Under previous hate law, Christians and Muslims did not get protection because they were not considered to constitute a single ethnic bloc.

He said: "What I have seen is that the government has been treating the Muslim community like subjects of a colony rather than equal citizens in the UK."

Lord Ahmed's comments come as ministers consider whether race hate laws should be strengthened in the wake of BNP leader Nick Griffin's acquittal on Friday.

A jury decided speeches by Mr Griffin, 46, from Powys, and party activist Mark Collett, 26, from Leicestershire, had not incited racial hatred.

The Leeds Crown Court jury heard extracts from a speech Mr Griffin made in 2004 in which he described Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith" and said Muslims were turning Britain into a "multi-racial hell hole".

Mr Collett had told the audience: "Let's show these ethnics the door in 2004."

Nick Griffin after being cleared of race hate charges
Nick Griffin's speech was secretly filmed for a BBC documentary

A Home Office spokesman said Home Secretary John Reid would consult ministers and take time to reflect on the court's judgement.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said current laws may need reviewing, while Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said Muslims had been offended by Mr Griffin's remarks and must be sure that the law would protect them.

Lord Falconer said the government had to show young Muslims that Britain was not anti-Islamic, adding there should be "consequences" from saying Islam is "wicked and evil".

Legislation banning the use of threatening words to incite religious hatred was passed by Parliament earlier this year and is expected to come into force next year.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris said any further restrictions on freedom of expression risked creating "extremist martyrs" or could be impossible to enforce.

Last month Lord Ahmed said there was "a constant theme of demonisation of the Muslim community".

He accused politicians and journalists of jumping on a bandwagon because "it is fashionable these days to have a go at the Muslims".

Politicians 'left vacuum for BNP'
11 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Tougher race hate laws considered
11 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
BNP leader cleared of race hate
10 Nov 06 |  Bradford
Profile: Nick Griffin
10 Nov 06 |  UK Politics

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