A bill submitted by the opposition Reform Party which would criminalize hate speech was voted down by members of the Riigikogu on Thursday. The coalition said more urgent issues should be discussed in the middle of a pandemic.
Fifty members of parliament voted in favor of rejecting the bill and 39 members of the Riigikogu voted against.
Reform said their draft bill supported the decision taken by the Council of the European Union in 2008 to combat forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia. In November, the European Union started infringement proceedings against Estonia because it had not adopted laws on hate speech.
However, coalition MPs expressed concern that the bill places excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.
Chairman Kaja Kallas said the bill would not have restricted freedom of speech and would have concerned only incitement to violence against minority groups.
She said an amendment to the law would mean that in the future an aggravating circumstance would be taken into account if the crime was committed based on citizenship, nationality, race, physical identity and health status, disability, age, gender, language, origin, ethnicity, religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity or social status.
Currently, under the Penal Code, incitement to hatred is punishable only if there is a threat to a person's life, health or property but the draft would have extended that to a threat to public order.
Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa), a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, said the draft had been completed in a hurry and its content is raw. In his opinion, during the discussion of the bill in the committee, the motive of the bill also remained incomprehensible.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) wrote on social media that the bill would muzzle the Estonian people and called on the Riigikogu to reject the bill.
The coalition also criticized the fact that the bill is being discussed in the midst of the coronavirus crisis when the Riigikogu could be tackling more important problems. This echoes criticism from the opposition parties of discussions around the marriage referendum, which is being put forward by coalition.
Isamaa has previously said the bill is a creeping introduction of censorship and the state cannot tell a person how to think or what to say.
Editor: Helen Wright