UN racism expert urges Australia to maintain law

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A United Nations expert on racism today urged Australia not to water down hate-speech prohibitions, as bigots and extremists become more vocal.

Mutuma Ruteere, U.N. special rapporteur on racism, joined the debate surrounding Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act at the end of a weeklong fact-finding mission.

The conservative government had planned to amend Section 18 C of the Act, which prohibits offending someone on the basis of race, color or ethnicity

But the government shelved those plans at the insistence of Muslim leaders in the interests of forging closer community cooperation against extremists.

But several conservative lawmakers argue that law unreasonably restricts freedom of speech and want the 21-year-old section scrapped.

Ruteere, a Kenyan rights researcher, said the section “presents an interesting and useful balance” between freedom of speech and protecting minorities.

“Section 18 C sets the tone of an open, inclusive and multicultural Australia, which respects and values the diversity of its peoples and protects indigenous and migrants against bigots and extremists who have become more vocal in Australia and other parts of the world,” Ruteere told reporters.

Removing this section would “open the door to racist and xenophobic hate-speech which has been quite limited thanks to this provision,” he added.

Several influential anti-Muslim and anti-establishment lawmakers were elected to the federal parliament of the Christian-majority country at national elections in June.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

By Jason Subik

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