Positions of the Estonian Human Rights Centre: Draft Law on Amending the Penal Code Regarding Incitement to Hatred and Hate-Motivated Crimes

The Estonian Human Rights Centre submitted its positions on October 10th regarding Draft Law No. 232 SE, initiated by the Government of the Republic of Estonia and under consideration in the Riigikogu, which seeks to amend the Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Code of Misdemeanour Procedure (Incitement to Hatred and Hate-Motivated Crimes).

We welcomed the state’s initiative to establish a legal framework to combat hate speech, which has the potential to prevent and penalize incidents of incitement to hatred, unlike the current regulations. It is also a long-awaited and commendable development that the Penal Code will include hate-motivation as an aggravating circumstance in the punishment of offenses.

In summary, our positions are as follows:

  • Freedom of speech is an important human right that needs protection, but in a democracy, it is equally important to safeguard the rights of minorities and their opportunities for equal participation in society.
  • Regarding the substantive aspect of the draft, it is positive that disability is introduced as a protected characteristic. We recommend considering adding age as a protected characteristic and evaluating whether there are other groups that require legal protection against incitement to hatred.
  • We drew the attention of the Legal Affairs Committee and members of the Riigikogu to the fact that the vast majority of Estonians support restrictions on hate speech. A survey conducted by Turu-uuringud in 2023 found that 76% of respondents believed that the dissemination of hate speech in Estonia should be subject to punishment.
  • It is positive that the draft law introduces the concept of hate crimes, meaning that hate motivation will become an aggravating circumstance in the punishment of offenses under the Penal Code. In Estonia, it has long been possible to incite hatred against minorities without consequences, creating fertile ground for potential real violence. Estonia is one of the few EU countries where hate motivation has not been defined as an aggravating circumstance in the punishment of offenses.

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