Riigikogu committee sends hate speech bill for first reading

Riigikogu legal affairs committee chair Eduard Odinets (SDE).
Riigikogu legal affairs committee chair Eduard Odinets (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu's Legal Affairs Committee has sent a bill to parliament which would, if it passes, put in place more rigorous hate speech legislation in place. Proponents say that the bill does not hinder freedom of speech and other fundamental rights.

The bill would categorize more serious cases as felonies; these cases would include the public incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination against a group of people or a member of any group based on nationality, race, color, sex, disability, language, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, property or social status.

Eduard Odinets, chairman of the legal committee (pictured), said that the principle freedom of speech does not underpin a right to incite hatred, meaning the bill is not a threat to that freedom. "I don't see this bill as a threat to freedom of speech, but as an opportunity for self-control," Odinets said.

"It is hoped that, thanks to this bill, hostile messages will remain unsaid or unwritten," he went on, stressing that the bill is intended to respond to such situations where hate speech can lead to a clear and present threat to the security of society.

However, Anastassia Kovalenko-Kõlvart (Center), committee vice-chair, said it remains unclear what issues will be resolved by the bill and how the law will actually work in practice, since the issues of hate speech and various situations are covered by the already existing law.

"The claim that the practice of hate speech will be formulated in court is in sharp contradiction to the basic principle of the Constitution and of the rule of law, which is to ensure legal clarity," the MP said.

"The purpose of legislation is, primarily, to prevent problems and possible disputes, not the other way around. This is especially important in criminal law, where a person must understand to get what is allowed and what is not," Kovalenko-Kõlvart said.

The bill does not entail making the publication of critical or views or those which may cause offense as punishable under criminal law. Civil court cases are also viable in some of these situations, proponents of the bill argue.

The committee opted to send the draft bill (232 SE) amending the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Misdemeanor Procedure Code (the section on incitement to hatred and hate crimes) as initiated by the government for its first reading at the Riigikogu, due on September 27.

The bill has been sent for its first reading (of three needed to enter into law).

The government approved the bill at the start of summer, but the Riigikogu's summer recess, along with a filibuster which ran through the spring and early summer, held the bill up.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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