Queenslanders face three years jail for Facebook posts as legal experts worry about swastika ban
A sweeping law could result in Australians being jailed for up to three years for posting what is deemed ‘offensive’ on Facebook in an attempt to protect minority groups.
Queensland’s Labor government has tabled a bill that would drastically increase the maximum jail term for racist, anti-gay or seriously bigoted statements.
Making such statements already carries a maximum prison sentence of six months, but this would be increased to three years under the new bill.
Incendiary Facebook posts would be a criminal offense under the laws governing “any form of communication with the public, including speaking, writing, printing, displaying notices, broadcasting, broadcasting, displaying or playing tapes or other recorded material, or by electronic means’. ‘.
Posting a Nazi symbol on social media, or carrying it around in public, also leads to jail time.
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Someone could soon face up to three years in prison for posting an abusive Facebook comment or face criminal charges for displaying a religious symbol resembling a swastika, legal experts say (stock image)
Neo-Nazis who displayed swastikas face hefty jail terms under the proposed Penal Code (serious defamation and hate crimes) and other 2023 law changes.
It covers “any behavior that is observable to the public, including actions, gestures, and the wearing or display of clothing, signs, flags, emblems, or insignia.”
Displaying a swastika is already illegal in Victoria and NSW, Western Australia is soon to follow and South Australia is also considering the issue.
In NSW, it attracts a one-year prison sentence or a $100,000 fine.
The laws in Victoria and NSW have an exception when it comes to people displaying swastikas for religious reasons – as it is a common symbol in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions.
While the proposed law has a similar exemption in Queensland, there are fears overzealous police could still arrest and charge someone.
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said the proposed laws targeting Nazi swastikas could lead to criminal charges against Hindus for displaying their religious symbol.
Swastikas are a symbol of the sun in Hinduism and are often displayed during the Diwali festival of lights.
“There is a serious prospect that people of different faiths who use the swastika and similar symbols as a common part of their religious beliefs will, I believe, be prosecuted under this legislation,” Cope said at a parliamentary hearing on Monday.
“Given the prevalence of the swastika in so many different cultural and religious contexts, someone will inevitably be sued.”
In a statement to the Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Security which is examining the legislation, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said Hindus and comedians could both face criminal charges.
But Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said the proposed laws targeting Nazi swastikas could also lead to criminal charges against Hindus for displaying a religious symbol (pictured is a Hindu swastika on display in Brisbane)
“We all know that the swastika has been around for millennia and is also a prominent symbol in the Roman world,” it reads.
What Queensland law says
The Penal Code (Serious Defamation and Hate Crimes) and other Legislative Amendment Act 2023 propose to impose prison sentences of three years, six months from now, for bigoted public statements.
Section 131A describes a public act as “any form of communication to the public, including by speaking, writing, printing, displaying notices, broadcasting, broadcasting, displaying or playing tapes or other recorded material, or by electronic means.”
This includes social media posts.
It also focuses on Nazi symbols, referring to “any behavior that is observable to the public, including actions, gestures, and the wearing or display of clothing, signs, flags, emblems, or insignia.”
The police rather than just the Director of Public Prosecutions would have the power to press charges, with the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties concerned that an officer would not understand the meaning of a Hindu swastika.
“But today, of course, it is widely used in Hinduism. The law tries to allay this concern by defending a sincere religious purpose.
“However, it is clear that the need to defend charges under this law falls on religious and cultural groups that regularly use the symbol, not to mention artists and satirists.”
Labor MP James Martin argued that the bill allowed for a ‘genuine religious intent’ defence.
But Mr Cope said the legislation gave the police, rather than just the Director of Public Prosecutions, the power to prosecute anyone, meaning nuance could be lost for an officer.
“I accept what you say, but the problem is that this symbol is used so extensively by many different religions and cultural groups and ultimately the decision to prosecute someone will be made by a police officer who may not understand what you are saying. ,’ he said.
The laws proposed by Labor would also place the responsibility on the defendant to prove that the swastika was not used to promote fascist ideology.
“The burden of having to defend that prosecution will be on those individuals and at least part of the burden of proof will be on them,” Mr Cope said.
“Why should part of the burden of proof rest on them?”
Former state attorney general Shannon Fentiman, often touted as a future prime minister or Labor leader, introduced the bill in March to raise the maximum prison sentence for defaming a minority group.
Ms. Fentiman was transferred to the health portfolio this month and Yvette D’Ath returned as attorney general.
Former Queensland attorney general Shannon Fentiman, who is often touted as a future prime minister or Labor leader, introduced the bill in March that would increase the maximum prison sentence for defaming a minority group
Under the legislation, the Attorney General would have the power to declare a symbol illegal without having to consult Parliament – a system known as regulation.
The Queensland Law Society opposes the introduction of three-year prison sentences for serious libel offences.
Patrick Quinn, the deputy chairman of the group’s criminal justice committee, said the legislation could charge someone with something subjective.
“Is the display objectively capable of causing offense rather than simply hurting the feelings of a person making the complaint?
“It should be clear that in those circumstances it is an objective test.”
Rebecca Fogerty, the vice president of the Queensland Law Society, said the proposed law could be abused against someone.
“Only the most serious types of behavior are recorded to ensure there is no slippery slope in how such legislation can be abused, including against the people it is designed to protect,” she said.
Swastikas are a symbol of the sun in Hinduism and are often displayed during the Diwali festival of lights (pictured children in the north Indian city of Chandigarh)
Cope said the legislation would give the state “unfettered” powers to curtail free speech in the name of stamping out intolerance.
“We are transferring power to the state to make those very critical decisions, in a way that on the face of it, at least in one view of the law, is virtually limitless,” he said.
“And we don’t know who will be the next government or the government in 10 years.”
Queensland is seeking to join Victoria and Western Australia in banning the display of the swastika, with several Labor states seeking to emulate laws that exist in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland and criminalize a symbol of Nazi Germany set.
Labor has a majority in Queensland’s lower house in a state with no upper house, meaning the opposition Liberal National Party and smaller parties cannot block legislation.
Daily Mail Australia contacted Ms D’Ath for comment.