Palestine campaigners warned over hate crime law

by Heckle reporter

Police Scotland officers have warned Palestine solidarity campaigners that popular chants and slogans could now be criminal under Scotland’s new hate crime legislation, prompting calls for the Scottish Government to take urgent action to protect the movement from criminalisation.

In Dundee, organisers of a “walk for justice” marking Al-Quds Day were told on Saturday that chants of “Israel is a terror state” could fall foul of the ‘stirring up hatred’ provisions of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into effect at the start of April.

Kashif, one of the organisers, told Heckle that an officer who has been involved in policing local solidarity demonstrations over the past six months asked him if he was “aware of the new laws that have come into place” shortly before the march set off from Dundee Central Mosque.

“I said I didn’t know the ins and outs of it, but if it’s about ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, then I’m telling you to your face, I will continue saying that,” he said. That popular slogan of Palestinian liberation since the 1960s has been criminalised in Germany and other European countries, though London’s Met Police has said it will not arrest people simply for using it.

“He goes ‘oh no, it’s not that, it’s the other one – five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state’, and that this, depending on the context, is considered potential hate speech. I explained that Israel is a terror state… and he said he’s telling me because it’s his job to let me know what the law is.”

Kashif said the relationship between protesters and police in Dundee has generally been good, but added: “I’ve told them not to expect me to bend over backwards to keep them happy – my objective isn’t to keep Police Scotland happy, it’s to make Palestine free. But 99.9% of us are law-abiding citizens, we’re not hooligans looking for a fight – we’re looking for justice.”

Marchers went on to defy police guidance and repeatedly chant: “One, two, three, four – occupation no more! Five, six, seven, eight – Israel is a terror state!” No arrests were made.

The Hate Crime Act was approved by virtually all SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs in April 2021, shortly before the 2021 Holyrood elections, and came into effect this month. Legal experts say there is widespread misinformation about its effects.

Much of the opposition to the law has been driven by anti-trans campaigners who oppose its provisions on anti-transgender hate, and it has also been troubled by a far-right campaign of false reports. However, its potential weaponisation against Palestine campaigners raises deeper concerns about its application which only the Scottish Government can address.

  • Are you aware of Police Scotland applying the Hate Crime Act to Palestine solidarity campaigners elsewhere in Scotland? Email us on contact@heckle.scot.
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