Hate speech

Hate speech promotes hatred or violence against individuals or groups based on certain characteristics. Hate speech is not protected under freedom of expression. This means that the state can legally prevent hate speech and punish for such expressions. Also in Estonia incitement to hatred is criminalised in section 151 of the Penal Code, but it is so restrictive that in practice it is extremely difficult to process hate speech.

Hate speech, or incitement to hatred, is a term that is often used, but not always understood in the same way. It is a concept on which there is no international consensus. This is a complex and divergent issue that is treated differently by different legal cultures and jurisdictions. Estonian Human Rights Centre’s treatment of hate speech is based on the Estonian Constitution, the EU Framework Decision prohibiting incitement to racial hatred, the guidelines of the Council of Europe on hate speech and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

We have put together some questions and answers on this topic that has been addressed to us.

Is [some expression] a hate speech?

The purpose of hate speech is to humiliate and degrade a person because of who they are, not because of what they have done. Each expression must be analysed in its context. Hate speech is always contextual, it depends on the environment, the speaker and the target group. To define hate speech, various components must be considered, including the content of the expression, the (written or oral) tone, the (individual and collective) targets, and the possible consequences or effects.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor has defined hate speech as: “… a bias-motivated, hostle, malicious speech aimed at a person or a group of people because of some of their actual or perceived innate characteristics. It expresses discriminatory, intimidating, disapproving, antagonistic and/or prejudicial attitudes toward those characteristics which include sex, race, religion, ethnicity, colour, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. Hate speech is intended to injure, dehumanise, harass, debase, degrade, and/or victimise the targeted groups, and to foment insensitivity and brutality towards them.” (Source: Cohen-Almagor, R., 2012, “Fighting Hate and Bigotry on the Internet”, Policy and Internet, Vol. 3 (3).)

Freedom of speech is in danger!

Human rights are interlinked and interdependent: as for the freedom of expression and for equal treatment. Public incitement to hatred fosters the likelihood of hate crimes and discrimination against people.

It is contrary to the idea of ​​human rights to use human rights to significantly restrict other human rights. Minorities are at a disadvantage today in exercising their freedom of expression, as their statements may cause a more severe reaction to them than to others. Hate speech limits the opportunities of minorities to have a say in the society and therefore makes social debate poorer and society less democratic.