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Estonian Human Rights Center to turn to court over Palestine protest

"Sound Off: Solidarity with Palestine" protest at Tallinn's Freedom Square on Sunday. November 5, 2023. Source: Ahmed Al Madani/Private library

The Estonian Human Rights Center has decided to turn to court to defend freedom of expression in the aftermath of what happened at a recent protest meeting to support Palestine.

A protest meeting was held to show solidarity with Palestine in Tallinn on November 5. The police removed five protesters, some of whom were carrying posters that read and some said the words, "From the river to the sea" and handed them financial punishments.

Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, chairwoman of the board of the EHRC, said that young people who attended the meeting were exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression.

"They have clearly stated that they do not support terrorism or Hamas' brutal attack against Israeli civilians, and that participating in the meeting served the purpose of being pro-world peace. Despite this, the police apprehended them and fined them for the use of the sentence, "From the river to the sea."

The Human Rights Center writes in its press release that the sentence in question has been interpreted in many different ways in Europe. The EHRC gives the example of Finland where the police recently decided against launching proceedings in a similar situation because the sentence cannot be interpreted clearly enough from the point of view of criminal justice.

There had been virtually no debate on whether the sentence, "From the river to the sea" should be permitted or prohibited in Estonia before the protest meeting in question, suggested Kelly Grossthal, head of strategic litigation for the center.

"Freedom of expression is not unlimited, and the interests of other people, public order and security need to be considered, while punishments need to be strictly necessary," Grossthal remarked

The EHRC is asking the court to declare unconstitutional and revoke section 1511 of the Penal Code. The provision's aim is to punish people who support and justify international crime with malicious intent. But the center finds that in its current form, the section also makes it possible to punish people who have committed an offense out of carelessness.

The center is representing four people who took part in the meeting and is working with sworn lawyer Ronald Riistan.

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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski

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