Government approves hate speech draft bill

Kalle Laanet.
Kalle Laanet. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The government approved a measure on Thursday that will prohibit the most extreme forms of incitement to hatred and hate crimes. It takes into account the protection of free speech and all other fundamental rights, its authors said.

According to the proposed law, inciting to 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 will be a crime in the future.

Under the proposed law, only actions that give rise to the fear that the call will be followed by violence or that constitute a serious threat to the security of society will be punished. In the case of other offenses, the aggravating factor will be if the act was motivated by hatred, the minister explained.

The purpose of the proposal, according to Justice Minister Kalle Laanet (Reform), is to regulate only what is strictly necessary while preserving free speech.

"Everyone must be protected against hate speech. Even the draft's critics agree. The criminal law lever should be used as a last resort when hate speech goes beyond the expression of an opinion protected by freedom of expression and poses a real threat to the security of society," the minister said.

Laanet said that the amendment is necessary because hate speech is not presently regulated in an adequate way.

"Hate speech can escalate into major disturbances or lead to hate crimes, such as attacks on people and their property, merely because the person being attacked is of a different gender, ethnicity, language or worldview. This precautionary amendment is essential for the safety of all members of society," Laanet said.

The minister said that the proposal does not intend to make publishing critical or even shocking opinions a crime. According to him, the amendment also does not prohibit people from expressing their opinions, even if they may offend certain groups in society. "Societal condemnation or, when necessary, civil legal action will continue to be the response to incivility," he said.

Current law punishes public incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination only if it poses a threat to the life, health or property of a person. "This criterion has failed and rendered the crime of incitement to hatred a sham," the minister said.

"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.

Laanet cited the Russian Federation's public propaganda against Ukrainians as an example of international incitement to hatred and violence, which has resulted in crimes against humanity. There are numerous comparable examples from the WW II and the Soviet occupation authorities' agitation. These examples served as a guide for the draft's creation.

In the draft, the ministry of justice has taken into consideration some of the substantive feedback received during the coordination round. The proposed legislation will then be sent to the Riigikogu.

Several legal and media experts have warned that the hate speech law could pose a threat to freedom of expression.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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