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To Punish Public Hate or Not?

16.05.2012

Salome Achba, www.religiebi.info

Should hate speech be punishable by law?! Lately, this question is frequently heard in Georgia. There are two approaches to publicly declared hate speech in the modern world – the American and the European. According to the European approach, hate speech is a criminal offence and thus not protected by freedom of speech. The American approach, on the other hand, does not impose any punishment for similar action.

US law with regard to this issue states that everybody shall enjoy his/her right to freedom of expression except in cases when the threat created by freedom of expression is clear and present

The term ‘hate speech’ itself means verbal discrimination of a person on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic.

Under Georgian law, hate speech is not a criminal offence. However, the Law on Freedom of Expression prohibits licensed media organizations from using terms which could insult a group of people. According to the same law, media organizations should investigate these types of violations, and self-regulatory bodies should be tasked with handling complaints related to this issue. If the violation amounts to dissemination of hate speech, the media organization shall take relevant measures. As a rule, in these instances, media organizations should issue an apology.

Are the sanctions envisaged by the national Law pn Freedom of Expression enough to punish hate speech or is it necessary to make the law more stringent? Georgian public opinion is divided on the issue. One part appreciates the American approach and claims that criminalization of hate speech will contradict freedom of expression and thus must not be made punishable by law. The other part believes that the current situation in Georgia requires the creation of additional legal instruments, adopting the European approach and criminalizing hate speech. Religiebi.info talked to some human rights defenders and journalists about this issue.

Nazi Janezashvili, head of the nongovernmental organization Article 42 of the Constitution, thinks hate speech should be made punishable by law: “Due to the current situation in Georgia, I thinkhate speech must be punished by the law. I believe that Georgian society is ready for these legislative changes because lately several public figures used hate speech targeting certain groups of people and Georgian society reacted negatively to it. Of course, if hate speech is criminalized, we might face some problems in terms of implementation of the law, but I think those problems will arise only in the initial stage. There is another issue: it will be very difficult to control hate speech in the era of Internet and social networks. However, some preventive mechanisms can also be created. We can look at and share practices of countries where hate speech is criminalized - their experience will be very useful for us.”

The chairwoman of the Center for the Promotion of Women Initiatives, Eka Agdgomelashvili, also believes that hate speech must be regulated in the country, but by ethics norms for journalists instead of law: “I believe that a Journalistic Ethics Code is the best instrument to regulate hate speech. Our purpose for advocating for this Code is to improve media-ethics and its proper use in practice. I clearly oppose the idea of criminalization of hate speech because of the low level of media freedom in the country. Criminalization of hate speech might be misunderstood and instead become a principal tool in censoring the media.”

The chairwoman of the Georgian Media Club and journalist Magda Popiashvili also thinks that hate speech is a serious problem in Georgian media. However, she also denounces the idea of making it punishable under criminal law.

“Unfortunately, many people in Georgia, politicians and journalists, often use hate speech in their statements. It is prevalent in Georgian society and, unfortunately, members of the public also use hate speech against various groups of people. Despite that fact, I do not support the idea of criminalization of hate speech. Instead, an Ethics Code should regulate the instances when journalists use hate speech,” Magda Popiashvili said and added that when a politician uses hate speech, certain sanctions could perhaps be imposed on them. For example, blocking the politician in question from appearing on TV for a certain period of time.

In Georgia, hate speech mostly targets ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.

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