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Hate speech law will not come up for second reading before spring

The Riigikogu in session.
The Riigikogu in session. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu Legal Affairs Committee dismissed hundreds of proposals to amend Estonia's so-called hate speech law. Even though Estonia is looking at an EU fine for directive non-compliance, the bill will not reach the floor again before spring.

Draft legislation to regulate what constitutes hate speech passed its first reading in the Riigikogu in September. The parliament's Legal Affairs Committee has also concluded processing around 600 amendment proposals, mainly from opposition Isamaa and EKRE delegates. The committee did not support a single proposal.

Committee chair Eduard Odinets (SDE) said that next, the bill needs to be sent for its second reading, while there are no plans to do that before spring.

Both coalition and opposition members have criticized the government's recent tactic of tying votes in the parliament to confidence in the cabinet (meaning that proposals to amend do not have to be voted on – ed.). It remains unclear whether the coalition of the Reform Party, SDE and Eesti 200 plan to deploy the tactic also for the hate speech law.

Possible fine cannot be appealed

The European Commission brought infringement proceedings against Estonia in 2020 as it finds that the country's Penal Code does not go far enough in regulating hate speech.

Maria-Elisa Tuulik, head of PR for the Ministry of Justice, said that Estonia has presented its position to the Commission and is awaiting the next steps. Should the matter be taken to the European Court of Justice, Estonia could be looking at a fine for failure to comply with a framework decision.

The fine sum is difficult to forecast, while Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has previously suggested it could be €20,000 for every week the matter remains unresolved.

Amendments to the Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Code of Misdemeanor Procedure, dubbed simply the "hate speech law," landed in the parliament in June. The bill prescribes punishments for those who openly incite hatred, violence or discrimination in a matter that might pose a threat to public order. It is the latter part of this phrasing, which has been criticized the most as it is perceived to be too open to interpretation and pose a threat to free speech and freedom of expression.

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Editor: Mari Peegel, Marcus Turovski

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