ACT News

Anti-Islamic pamphlets an 'unlikely' breach of the law

The people who anonymously distributed anti-Islamic pamphlets to Canberra and Queanbeyan homes over the Christmas holidays are unlikely to have breached ACT law, the Human Rights Commissioner has found.

The Canberra Times revealed in January that the small, cartoon-style leaflets were hand-delivered to letterboxes in Queanbeyan, Kingston, Braddon, Lyneham and Civic, and included titles such as Is Allah Like You? and Allah Has No Son.

In a letter to Attorney-General Simon Corbell outlining her findings, Helen Watchirs said that while the characters drawn in the pamphlet appeared Middle Eastern and lived in a desert environment, precedent meant it was unlikely to meet the ACT's high thresholds for racial vilification.

She considered similar cases in New Zealand and Britain, and found that, because of the diverse ethnic origins and languages of Islamic people, it was unclear whether the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal or the ACT Supreme Court would consider them a racial group.

Unlike Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, the ACT does not have any existing religious vilification laws.

One pamphlet, Is Allah Like You?, depicts a Muslim man physically abusing his wife and child, and a religious elder condoning the behaviour as acceptable under Islamic law.


It later emerged that anti-Catholic titles The Death Cookie and The Last Rites had also been distributed, which included illustrations of Catholics burning in hell.

Dr Watchirs used her letter to call for religious vilification laws to be considered for the ACT, and Mr Corbell said he had asked his directorate to consider her advice.

''The ACT Government is firmly committed to eliminating discrimination and promoting equality in the ACT,'' he said.

ANU human rights academic Associate Professor Simon Rice said it was difficult to determine how successful religious vilification laws in other jurisdictions were, as they were meant to deter offensive behaviour before it took place.

He said that while other methods, including education programs, were the best way to combat religious hatred, laws against discrimination could signal to the population that some conduct was unacceptable.

''It is appropriate that we send out a message that people should not be attacked for who or what they are,'' he said.

The ACT Law Reform Advisory Council is currently reviewing the Discrimination Act 1991 and has asked the public for contributions.

Dr Watchirs said the pamphlets were highly offensive and may be in breach of federal racial discrimination laws, which were more broadly defined than the ACT's.

''I believe it is very likely, in all the circumstances, that the cartoon has the capacity to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate Muslim people,'' she said in the letter.

The pamphlets were published by Chick Publications, a US evangelical business listed as a hate group by international human rights organisations, but the local distributor did not identify themselves.