Laanet sends hate speech draft amendments for approval

Kalle Laanet (Reform).
Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) has submitted the draft bill prohibiting incitement to hatred or violence for approval. The minister said the amendment takes into consideration free speech and the protection of all other fundamental rights.

Public incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination is punishable under current law if this results in danger to the life, health or property of a person.

"This criterion has failed and rendered the crime of incitement to hatred a sham; the crime of incitement to hatred is precisely the creation of an abstract threat and a background of hatred, not a concrete threat situation. Thus, the current law unjustifiably restricts the definition of incitement to hatred and does not permit an adequate response in situations where public provocation has the potential to constitute a substantial threat to society," Laanet explained.

According to the draft law, it would be a crime to incite hatred, violence or discrimination against a group of people or a member of a group on the grounds of nationality, skin color, racial background, gender identity, health and disability, language, origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion or property or social status.

Those activities that give reason to fear that the activity will result in violence or pose a serious threat to the security of society will be punished. In the case of other offenses, the fact that the act was motivated by animosity will be an aggravating factor.

Laanet said that the purpose of criminal law is not to shape social morality. He said that it should only regulate what is absolutely necessary while safeguarding freedom of expression.

"The new definition of offense is designed to combat only the most serious forms of incitement to hatred. It does not cover ordinary critical or shocking statements. The amendment also does not prohibit the expression of opinions, even if they may offend certain groups in society. The response to incitement can be social condemnation or, if necessary, civil legal action, as is currently the case," Laanet said.

After the consultation round, the ministry will analyze the feedback received and submit the revised draft to the government. If the government authorizes the proposal, it is forwarded to the Riigikogu for consideration.

§151 of the Penal Code is to be amended and reworded as follows, per the draft:

(1)  Activities which publicly incite to hatred, violence or discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, color, sex, language, origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, or financial or social status in a manner likely to endanger public order [current version: if this results in danger to the life, health or property of a person, -ed.], - is punishable by a fine or by detention.

(2) The same act, if committed

1) repeatedly, or

2) by a group –

is punishable by a fine or up to three years' imprisonment.

(3) An act provided for in subsection (1) or (2) of this section, if committed by a legal person, is punishable by a fine.

(4) A manner that may threaten public order within the meaning of this section is a manner that elicits fear of a violent act following incitement or that poses a significant threat to the safety of society.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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