Sworn lawyer: Government's handling of hostile symbols bill too vague

Norman Aas.
Norman Aas. Source: ERR

The government has phrased the bill for limiting the use of aggressive symbols too vaguely that leaves room for provocations and renders the work of the police more difficult, sworn lawyer Norman Aas told Vikerraadio on Friday.

Aas said that the government's bill will also alter hate speech regulation by abolishing the clause of consequences as basis for punishment.

"The government is looking to solve another dispute in the shadow of banning symbols of aggression, which shouldn't be handled in this manner," the sworn lawyer said, pointing to the drawn-out hate speech subject matter.

He also finds the bill to amend the Penal Code too vague in terms of hostile symbols.

"It bans the use of symbols of all manner of aggressive wars that creates a host of problems that currently do not exist," Aas said. "I would have limited it to symbols used by Russian forces in the current war against Ukraine," he added.

Aas gave the example of the Z-sign on Russian armored vehicles that is clearly identifiable as a symbol in support of the war, while the Ribbon of Saint George, long used to signify Russia's military victories, sports a long history and makes for a more complicated matter.

"Is a Ribbon of Saint George wrapped around two carnations when taken to the Bronze Soldier monument banned or not?" Aas asked.

The Riigikogu should not saddle the police with making these decisions, the sworn layer said. "The less subjectivity in complicated situations, the better."

Is it permissible to come out with a red flag? "Another question that is difficult to answer, which is just the problem," Aas explained. "Or what does a WWII Red Army uniform symbolize? What is the wearer thinking? Are they justifying aggression or simply commemorating victims?"

Aas said that these questions remain unanswered.

The expert said that passing the bill in its current form could add legal ways of staging provocations. "My recommendation would be to limit the effect of the bill to symbols currently being used in Ukraine."

The government introduced draft legislation on Thursday to counter symbols in support of aggression, as well as attempts to justify or support it. At the same time, the text does not define symbols that facilitate aggression.

Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) said at the government press conference on Thursday that participating in hostile activities tied to the aggression or urging such participation in Estonia is punishable.

"I hope things will not come to that and the police can limit intervention to warnings, misdemeanor proceedings and fines at most. Activities that have serious consequences will be punishable, although not just for use of symbols," Lauri said.

Use of symbols will largely remain a misdemeanor. "We will not be defining which symbols are banned and which denote aggression. Symbols may change in time and the use of a symbol depends heavily on context," Lauri said.

The government's press release also revealed that the bill would alter the elements necessary to constitute an offense of inciting hatred, allowing people to be held responsible for misdemeanors even if attempts to incite hatred do not result in a realistic threat to life, health or property.

"Until now, this consequence has been necessary for a misdemeanor punishment. Another amendment would bring criminal responsibility in cases where actions lead to severe consequences," the text reads.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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