Human rights news in other jurisdictions

Woman charged after Facebook call to burn down mosques goes viral

Liam Mannix | December 23, 2015

An Australian woman has been charged with religious vilification after her Facebook post last month calling for "all mosques to be burnt down with the doors locked at prayer time" went viral.

However, the woman claims she cannot be charged with religious vilification because she does not acknowledge Islam as a religion. She believes it is a "evil, hateful ideology".

She made the post calling for the mosques to be burnt down on November 27.

The woman may be the first person charged with religious vilification in Victoria for a social media post.

The woman posted her charge sheet and a long statement on Facebook, saying she would "not back down". Many of her supporters claim the charge is an example of police denying the woman her freedom to speak freely about Islam.

Others claim it is an example of the "appeasement" of Islam.

Police confirmed a 38-year-old woman was charged by Swan Hill police on December 15. Under section 25 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 it is an offence to threaten or incite others to threaten a person on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The offence carries a maximum jail term of six months along with a maximum fine of $9100.

"It was not long after the Lindt Siege [December 16 and 15, 2014] and I commented on a Stop the Mosque in Bendigo page," the woman said on her Facebook page.

"It was when Sweden were burning mosques down and I made a comment of: all mosques should be burnt down with the doors locked at prayer time! Probably not the best thing to write but that's my opinion, others commented after my post agreeing with it and unbeknown to myself it got a lot of likes, that is where their incitement charge is coming from.

"Yesterday I got a call at work by the detective and he told me I was being charged. I told him how can I be charged for an opinion and how can I be charged with a religious vilification when I don't acknowledge those that are Muslims and those that follow the Quaran (sic) as a religion but as an evil, hateful ideology.

"I am more than happy for it to go public, if I do nothing about it and let them win it goes against everything I stand for and I can't do that! I didn't want this or the publicity that will come with it but it is what it is and I'm not about to back down."

Anna Brown, director of advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said people needed to be aware that making a comment even on a private Facebook page counted as speech to an audience under the Act.

"Under the Act, a message needs to have an audience in order to incite. So arguably even if the audience is limited on a private Facebook page, it is still an audience.

"To publicly encourage people to burn to death people of a particular faith - as this woman has allegedly done on Facebook, is clearly unacceptable. 

"We have laws that aim to prevent harmful hate speech that incites violence, so it's understandable that the police would want to follow this matter up. Whether it's in the street or on social media, it's unacceptable and dangerous to actively call for the murder of other people."

The woman and her partner, whom Fairfax Media has chosen not to name, did not reply to requests for comment.

The woman is due to appear at Swan Hill Magistrates' Court on February 16.