PPA fining creators of Ukraine war hate-speech social media posts

Maarja Punak on 'Terevisioon', Thursday, April 28 2022.
Maarja Punak on 'Terevisioon', Thursday, April 28 2022. Source: ERR

Fines of up to €1,200 can and have been issued to the creators of online videos or other posts on social media which constitute incitement to hatred in relation to Russia's war on Ukraine, Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Captain Maarja Punak says.

While the number of people supporting Russian aggression in Estonia has been quite limited, Punak said, the PPA has still been keeping an eye on the propagation of posts on online platforms which support or glorify Russia's aggression in Ukraine, and ahead of May 9, "Victory Day" in the Russian Federation.

Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Thursday, Punak said:  "If people continue to express their minds [in support of Russia's war on Ukraine], at some point we'll get through to them, talk to them and let them know that what they are doing isn't okay. If people still don't understand and keep going, we will impose measures."

Penalties depend on the specific act, and fines can stretch up to €1,200 in the worst cases, and the PPA intervenes immediately if information disseminated is intended to incite fear, incite hatred, incite violence and break public order.

"In the case of incitement to hatred, we are talking about a fine of up to €1,200. While the last fine issued was for €500, it doesn't make sense to make a small fine for a serious violation," Punak continued.

One recurring variety of post consists of misinformation about Ukrainian refugees now staying in Estonia.

Punak said: "These messages and misinformation have been the same throughout. A month ago, example, statements appeared that there are cases where Ukrainians go to beauty salons and then leave without paying, saying that they are war refugees. These stories recur every now and then; the author may be new and the claims relate to a new place or at some different time, but the narrative is still the same," adding that the veracity of such tales have not been confirmed.

In Narva, one individual had incited hatred via videos shared online, she added.

Due to a recent law change, a wide-range of symbols which could be seen as expressing support for Russia's war in Ukraine – both those which have emerged since the invasion started over two months ago and those which predate it – are banned for public display at any time.

Such symbols appearing on social media are less likely to received PPA attention, Punak said, but, again, it all depends on the situation; "If you come to comment on a Postimees' news article, for example, and a ribbon is visible on your profile picture, and the messages are in favor of Russia's actions, then this is a case where we would intervene," Punak said, referring to the orange-black Ribbon of St. George, also caught be the recent law.

While it is not realistic or viable to respond to each and every case, Punak said, members of the public can contact the authority if, for instance, they spot calls on social media for large numbers of people to congregate, or if they run a business which is seeing a surge in orders for Russian flags, t-shirts with the letter "Z" on them etc.

"If you feel our security is at stake, let us know," she added..

If an individual does not produce content in support of the aggression but constantly shares posts which support Russian activities as a whole, the PPA is also likely to ascertain their intentions: " To see if they themselves understand that sharing such messages is in support of the propaganda war."

The 15th anniversary of the "Bronze Solider" night riots passed off this week peaceably, the PPA told ERR Wednesday afternoon, with only three incidents reported on Tuesday at Tõnismägi in central Tallinn, the statue's former home, two of which resulted in misdemeanor proceedings.

While one ERR journalist reported seeing at least five PPA vehicles and one foot patrol on Tõnismägi at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, PPA spokesperson Joosep Kaasik said that they were on duty to safeguard public order and head off any escalation, given the sensitivity of the site.

Rioting over several nights in April 2007, at a time before the major social media platforms were in widespread use, left one person dead and saw multiple stores and businesses looted. The disorder was sparked after a bronze statue commemorating the Soviet war dead was removed by the authorities and relocated to a cemetery across town. The statue has since been the focal point of May 9 commemorations; while individuals may still attend the statue on the day, the donning of insignia and symbols relating to Russian militarism is banned.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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