Coalition party Isamaa has said that it opposes a hate speech bill from the opposition Reform Party, saying that it would curtail free speech.
"The Reform Party's move to fully criminalize hate speech threatens free speech and a free media," the party's leader, Helir-Valdor Seeder, said Wednesday.
"Isamaa believes that a free society does not need to solve playground issues via a militia and a criminal code. A democratic society honors the rights of the people and of the media, to express themselves freely," he went on.
"The attempted further criminalization of hate speech represents a creeping introduction of censorship. The rights of people and the media to free speech may not be put under ideological pressures. Opinions and expression cannot be influenced solely by the law. Reform's proposals would be a welcome means of intimidation, one which would provide the chance to silence many fundamental debates. The state cannot dictate to people what and how they can think or speak," Seeder added.
Reform had issued the bill last week, whose provisions reportedly make it feasible for criminal procedures against an individual who had made ostensibly threatening remarks but which would not be likely to bring any real consequences, for instance a call for monarchs in Estonia to be sent to the guillotine.
Reform leader Kaja Kallas said of the bill when tabling it early last week that: "The government coalition has made inciting hatred against various minorities increasingly commonplace. However, this should not be the case in a state based on the rule of law, and incitement of hatred and public calls for violence should be punishable via criminal procedure, even if victims do not immediately arise [from the hate speech]."
The bill, if it were to pass, would lead to greater social tensions, Seeder added.
Current Estonian law can offer criminal punishment in hate speech cases only if the actions constitute a clear and present threat to a person's life, health or property. This would include comments or threats in relation to race, gender, nationality, religious beliefs, political beliefs and sexual orientation.
The Reform Party bill's explanatory memorandum reads that racism and xenophobia directly violate principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and freedoms, as well as the tenets of the rule of law.
Estonia has as part of the Council of the European Union decided to fight against certain manifestations of racism and xenophobia using the tools of criminal law, the memorandum continues, but has so far failed to honor that pledge and introduced corresponding changes to its Penal Code.
Editor: Andrew Whyte