The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the controversial Hate Crime Bill yesterday despite a groundswell of opposition from civil society groups including the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).
The NSO joined the efforts of the campaign group Free to Disagree last year, because we realised proposals in the Bill would have a significant impact on civil liberties and a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. We worked with our allies in playing a major part in pushing back against controversial elements of the Bill, with some success, and gave both oral and written evidence to the Scottish Justice Committee.
The NSO lobbied alongside the National Secular Society, Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and The Humanists Society to secure an amendment to extend free speech for discussion of religion and belief. Expressions of ‘antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’ towards religion are now protected, whereas prior to this only, ‘criticism and discussion’ was safeguarded when it came to matters of religion. This is more in line with parallel legislation in England & Wales and allows for more robust discussion, without fear of investigation or censorship.
Notably, the original Bill was drafted without including the need for ‘intent’ to bring a conviction, and the threshold was merely ‘stirring of hatred’ was ‘likely’ to occur – something that would have put actors, or those working in theatrical arts (amongst others) in real difficulty. Lobbying efforts succeeded and the ‘intent’ modification is included in the legislation.
Our Deputy-Director who led on our campaigning, was quoted on BBC Politics Live and in the stage three debate yesterday in Holyrood by the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice Liam Kerr MSP, who said:
‘Let me finish with a quote from Hardeep Singh, ‘for ordinary people there will be a serious ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. MSPs must therefore put free speech first when making the decisive vote on this ill-conceived legislation. The only way to do that is to vote against it. At decision time tonight presiding officer, the Scottish Conservatives will do just that’.’
As we pointed out in evidence to the Justice Committee, the Hate Crime Bill puts women who want to discuss women’s rights and transgender issues in real difficulty, as there is not enough free speech protection for them. It also does not protect conversations in the privacy of one’s home, as there is no dwelling defence – something that is included in legislation in England & Wales. There is now a risk conversations around the dinner table could be investigated.
Hardeep Singh said: ‘The Bill is deeply flawed and will no doubt be used by people to silence or attempt to criminalise critics. It may well lead to a culture of vexatious complaints and heralds a very dark moment for free speech in Scotland. Of course, we are disappointed it has passed, but are grateful to have worked with brave and principled individuals in the Free to Disagree campaign. Thanks to these joint efforts, there have been some important amendments which have helped improve the legislation during its passage.’
Above image: Gurpreet Anand – Sikh Council UK (left) with orange turban on KTV programme ‘Sangat Di Kachehri’ – 10th Oct 2020
It has been brought to our attention that Gurpreet Anand of one of the two simultaneously existing Sikh Council UK’s, made a series of inaccurate and misleading statements about anti-Sikh hate crime on a programme called ‘Sangat Di Kachehri’ on KTV on 10th Oct 2020. The interview (which we have on file) was conducted in Punjabi by the host, and the responses were given by Mr Anand in both English and Punjabi (at times both together). For the purposes of this article we have translated his words into English.
He began by saying when he and his colleagues met the police (presumably post 9/11) to quantify how many attacks on Sikhs there had been, they were informed they cannot tell them, because the police do not count Sikh victims of hate crime. This may well have been the case, but Mr Anand does not clarify when the said meeting took place, the full details of the conversation, and who exactly provided them this information. We wrote to the Sikh Council UK to ask them for these particulars, and what Mr Anand and his colleagues had done since to make sure Sikhs were recorded appropriately. We had no response.
To set the record straight, hate crimes against Sikhs are currently recorded under both religion and race, and we successfully lobbied for the disaggregation of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ – so that these figures are transparent to include a breakdown of all faiths and none in this category by the Home Office. The latest Home Office statistics have just been reported. The number of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2019/20, included 202 incidents recorded against ‘Sikh’, which is 3% of all recorded (perceived) religious hate crimes in England and Wales.[i] A 7% rise from the previous year as observed by Dr Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham.[ii] Hate crimes where the victim is of a Sikh heritage can of course be recorded under different flags aside from religion, e.g. if they become victim of a homophobic attack, or if they are targeted in a racially aggravated attack.
In the interview segment, Anand suggests Sikhs are still not counted properly, and oddly appears to conflate the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) census tick box debate, inferring that if there was a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box this would go some way in solving the Sikh hate crime problem. This is misleading and indicates a very poor understanding of hate crime, which is recorded by the police on a perception basis. How does a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box in the census change an individual’s perception? The answer is, it does not. Besides, Sikhs are already recorded as victims of racially or religiously motivated hate crime (or both) based on perception of the victim, or any other person. The issue he miserably fails to grasp is the solution to the problem is not in belittling others, but (i) improving religious literacy (for ‘mistaken identity’ attacks in particular) and (ii) encouraging people to report all incidents in the first instance.
We have made some guides to assist the community in this regard with a project funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and facilitated by Galop. Can Mr Anand tell us what happened to the Sikh Council UK’s failed Sikh Aware (hate crime monitoring platform), and why no one has been held accountable for it? He may say this was under a previous administration, or the responsibility of the other concurrently existing Sikh Council UK. He may say this matter does not therefore concern him. We are not entirely sure which of the two coexisting Sikh Council UK’s we should talk to, nor we understand are the government.
He then goes on to make a veiled reference to us, saying these other Sikh organisations are debating whether Sikhs should be counted or not. Again, this is peculiar, and he appears to be ignorantly conflating the SFUK’s Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box issue with perception-based hate crime reporting, when the two are separate and distinct. He says ‘we say [The Sikh Council UK he heads] we should be counted. We should know what’s happening with our ‘kaum’ and what problems there are’. Notably, the use of ‘kaum’ mirrors the language often used by the SFUK.
Anand should be aware, it was the NSO who discovered Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ – something appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others. It was the NSO that pushed back against Action Against Hate (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths. It was the NSO that then influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime. It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.
Mr Anand boasts, ‘we are looking to get things done’, then refers to an APPG for British Sikhs Zoom meeting on anti-Sikh hate crime in which he participated. He later refers to other Sikh organisations, and asks the presenter if they are ‘democratic’ and ‘transparent’, then asking him if the NSO has ever come on his show? We asked The Sikh Council UK if Mr Anand was suggesting we are not ‘democratic’ or ‘transparent’, they did not respond. To set the record straight, we are happy to debate Mr Anand, but were not extended an invite to KTV, to have a right of reply. It’s important to note that Mr Anand’s friends, both in the SFUK and Preet Gill MP have previously ignored the offer to debate the ill-conceived Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box with our Director, Lord Singh on more than one occasion.
Most shamefully of all Mr Anand failed to mention that in November 2008, the NSO organised the screening of the UK premier of Valarie Kaur’s film Divided We FallAmericans in the Aftermath in Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London with a Q&A afterwards, with one Mr Anand. He can be seen giving an interview following the screening here.[iii]
We asked the Sikh Council UK to comment on why Mr Anand did not mention this given it was germane to the interview segment related to anti-Sikh hate crime, but they did not get back to us.