LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights chief on Friday called on Britain to tackle hate speech in the tabloid press after a columnist compared migrants to “cockroaches” and advocated using gunboats to stop them from coming to Europe.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the article was an extreme example of anti-foreigner articles that frequently appeared in UK tabloids, sapping compassion for people drowning in the Mediterranean in the desperate attempt to reach Europe.
He called on Britain and other EU countries to act against racism and xenophobia which “under the guise of freedom of expression, are being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicisation of migrants”.
The Sun newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, published the article by Katie Hopkins on April 17.
Britain’s Metropolitan Police said it had received complaints that it amounted to incitement of racial hatred and the matter was being considered.
A spokesman for The Sun declined to comment.
Headlined “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, Hopkins’ column described migrants as “a plague of feral humans” and “a norovirus” and said drilling a few holes in the bottom of their boats would be a good idea.
“Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care,” Hopkins wrote.
The day after the column was published, up to 900 people drowned when their boat capsized trying to reach Italy from Libya. Nearly 2,000 migrants have died so far this year out of nearly 40,000 trying to make the crossing.
Zeid said comparing people to cockroaches was reminiscent of language used by Rwandan media to incite hatred against Tutsis in the run-up to the 1994 genocide.
The independent press regulator, IPSO, said it had received more than 300 complaints about the article and was investigating whether it had breached an ethics code for editors.
An online petition calling for Hopkins to resign has been signed by 280,000 people, while a separate petition calling for her to be charged has gathered 28,000 signatures.
In a new column on Friday, Hopkins thanked The Sun for “letting me speak my mind” but said the outrage her article had caused was “a cautionary tale”.
“I am reminded of the power of the pen ... No one wants to see images of children drowned at sea, no matter what their journey or destination.” (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Michael Holden in London and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Andrew Roche)