Scotland

Jail vow to tackle religious hate

Kenny MacAskill
Image caption Mr MacAskill said recent events had "scarred and shamed Scotland"

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has promised to introduce tougher laws which crack down on people who shout sectarian abuse in football stadiums or "peddle religious hate" online.

Mr MacAskill said prison sentences of up to five years would be possible under legislation planned by the new Scottish government.

The SNP minister said recent events had "scarred and shamed Scotland".

He said he would work to bring in the changes "as soon as possible".

Mr MacAskill's comments came after weeks of turmoil in Scottish football.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been the target of parcel bombs and an assault inside a football ground.

These high-profile cases have been accompanied by online hate campaigns against Lennon, a prominent Roman Catholic, and other figures in Scottish football.

Currently people who cause disruption at matches can be charged with breach of the peace, with a maximum one-year sentence.

However the new laws would include behaviour that is threatening, abusive, disorderly or offensive, with a maximum jail term of five years.

Mr MacAskill said: "It is unacceptable to carry out sectarian disorder at a football ground or indeed to peddle sectarian hate over the internet or by tweeting. Strong action will be taken. It will be enforced because we cannot go on as we are."

"This is not a victimless crime," Mr MacAskill added.

"It does affect people and action has to be taken to protect, not just people, but to protect whole communities and to protect the good name of Scotland in the 21st century."

The justice secretary said the policy was being pursued by Scotland's Solicitor General Frank Mulholland.

He said the Scottish Parliament would need to pass new legislation to enforce some of the new proposals, such as dealing with people who posted comments on Twitter or Facebook.

Mr MacAskill said some might consider the new laws "draconian" but action was required to "stamp out" the small minority who carried out this "reprehensible" behaviour.

He added: "Within my lifetime we have seen changes where racial epithets have been seen as entirely unacceptable and there are tough laws to enforce it.

"We have got to make it clear in Scotland in the 21st century that religious epithets and slurs are equally unacceptable."

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