RELIGIOUS hate crime reported in Scotland has jumped by more than a quarter, prompting fresh calls for mandatory “rehab” for offenders to be introduced.
Most areas of Scotland have seen a rise in criminal charges which were religiously aggravated in 2011-12, official figures have shown. The total number of charges rose to 876, up 26 per cent from 693 the previous year. Glasgow saw a fall, but it still accounts for 40 per cent of all charges.
The SNP government introduced new laws at the start of March, aimed at cracking down on sectarian songs and online religious hate. The new figures published on Friday cover the financial year which ended on 31 March 2012, and the study says the new legislation may explain “a reduction in the number of religious aggravation charges for the month of March 2012”.
Catholics were the targeted in more than half of cases (58 per cent), while Protestants were the subject of abuse in 40 per cent of instances.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Bishops Conference of Scotland, said the problem is “not so much sectarianism but anti-Catholicism”.
He said: “I am saddened by the latest figures on religiously aggravated offending.
“While most Catholics are safe most of the time, these figures show a side of Scotland which is truly unfortunate. Sadly, it seems incontrovertible now that our problem is not so much sectarianism but anti-Catholicism.”
There were 19 attacks on Islam in 2011-12, up from 15 the previous year, and 14 on Judaism, down from 16.
The charges related to football rose from 231 to 267, although the problem inside stadiums was down slightly. Other incidents took place on public transport, on the streets and in residential areas. Anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth has now renewed its call for a nationwide rehabilitation scheme for anyone convicted of sectarian offences.
Campaign director Dave Scott said: “These figures are striking both for the nearly 30 per cent rise in the number of offences and the fact that we have seen arrests in all 32 of Scotland’s local authority areas.
“There have now been over 6,000 arrests for sectarian offences since 2003 and on average only a third of these are football related. This problem goes far beyond football and Facebook, and it’s worrying that nearly two-thirds of those arrested were under the age of 30.” The Scottish Government says it is investing £9 million over the next three years to help organisations take forward wider work to tackle sectarianism. A new independent expert group will help advise on current and future policies to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.
Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “It is completely unacceptable for people to think that offensive religious or sectarian language, or verbal or physical attacks based purely on religious prejudice, have any place in 21st century Scotland.
“While it is concerning that the number of cases has risen, I hope that the increase does indicate people feel more confident about reporting the perpetrators.”
She added: “These figures show that as well as tough enforcement, we need to tackle the root causes of religious prejudice that sadly is all too prevalent in parts of Scottish society.”