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Estonian government to seek compromise over hate speech law

The placard, on display at the pro-Palestine rally in Freedom Square, Tallinn, on November 5, reads
The placard, on display at the pro-Palestine rally in Freedom Square, Tallinn, on November 5, reads "From the river to the sea." Source: ERR

The ruling coalition in Estonia wants to come up with a new phrasing for the so-called hate speech law to placate the opposition parties. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the phrasing should be as narrow as possible, while still helping Estonia avoid EU infringement proceedings.

The government sent draft legislation that aims to criminalize hate speech in Estonia to the parliament in June where it passed its first reading in September. While the Riigikogu Legal Affairs Committee has discussed the bill on three occasions since, no real progress has been made.

Opposition Isamaa and EKRE filed a total of around 600 proposals to amend. Such tactics have recently been countered by the coalition tying the passing of bills to votes of confidence in the government in which case amendment proposals can be ignored. Toomas Uibo, member of the junior coalition partner Eesti 200, said Wednesday that his party is not in favor of going down that path this time.

That was also the message of Eesti 200 deputy head Kristina Kallas on Thursday.

"I think we need to regulate it [hate speech], but we need a political agreement. It is not something that can be implemented in a democratic system in a way that one side finds completely unacceptable. I don't think we can do it like that."

Reform Party head, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also said that the matter should be negotiated with the opposition.

Kallas said that she met with the justice minister and Eesti 200 members to analyze proposals to amend Wednesday and has tasked coalition MPs with negotiating with the opposition to see whether they would be willing to end filibustering so the bill would not have to be tied to a confidence vote.

Narrow phrasing to be proposed

Toomas Uibo said that hate speech should be very narrowly defined. "It needs to be a very serious call to go after a person's life or well-being," the MP said.

Kaja Kallas said that the plan is to go with a narrow description of what constitutes hate speech and prescribe punishments only for that.

Conservative People's Party (EKRE) leader Martin Helme suggested he is willing to discuss the coalition's proposal.

"I'll add that we would like to discuss a wider range of things than just this one bill. But I see it as an encouraging sign that they have realized this thing should not be tied to a confidence vote. Also, that they've understood we need to sit down together and talk."

However, there is consensus neither in the coalition nor opposition. Isamaa chair Urmas Reinsalu said he sees no reason to negotiate a milder phrasing of the initiative, which Isamaa opposes fundamentally and sees as a threat to legal stability, while the coalition Social Democratic Party continues to back the hate speech law for other reasons than simply to avoid infringement proceedings, even though its leader, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets, also suggested in November that it should not be tied to a confidence vote if possible.

Tying the passing of draft legislation to a vote of confidence in the government means amendment proposals are not voted on. However, should such a bill fail to pass, the government must immediately resign.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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