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Hate speech laws too soft, says human rights watchdog

The Estonian Human Rights Center urges government to clamp down on hate speech and amend the penal code.

"The arson attack on Vao asylum seekers' center shows that tolerating hate speech sooner or later leads to hate crime and it's necessary to improve the penal code to avoid it," the Human Rights on Thursday.

"We're made anxious by the fact that next to anonymous comments, hatred is increasingly spread under one's own name and face," the center's deputy head, Egert Rünne, said. "And instead of explaining the situation and trying to relieve tensions, several politicians, who should be aware of their responsibilities, also choose to spread extremist lies," he added.

The current penal code is futile against hate speech for its wording requires words to be accompanied by direct danger to one's life or well-being. "Figuratively speaking, a bully must also swing an ax over the head," Equal Treatment Legal Adviser Kelly Grossthal explained.

"When such a situation arises, the law enforcement authorities are too late to intervene, and hate speech becomes a hate crime," she said. "The penal code has to be amended so that the state could also react to instigation of hate and calls to violence."

Erkki Koort, the Deputy Secretary General for Internal Security Policy at the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, agreed that the current penal code is too soft on hate crimes.

"Without a clear victim, immediate threat to human life or health, the penal code, as it is today, is toothless against hate crime," Koort said, adding that over the past eight years, the issue has been raised on numerous occasions to no avail.

Koort said authorities will do everything in their power to rule out any future attacks on the refugee center, which now carries a symbolic meaning. "However, it is definitely not the place on which to project one's frustration or aversion."

By definition, hate speech is speech that attacks, threatens or insults a person or group on the basis of real or perceived characteristic like national origin, ethnicity, skin color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Hate speech aims to harm, dehumanize, harass, oppress, downgrade, humiliate and victimize select groups, incite insensitivity and brutality against them.

Editor: M. Oll

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