15/05/2017: Prosecution of hate speech and the Soti Triantafyllou case

Statement by Panayote Dimitras to English Kathimerini  

15 May 2017

In November 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) told Greece “The State party should review its legislation with a view to ensuring that all advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred is prohibited by law, and that all cases of racially motivated violence are systematically investigated, that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, and that appropriate compensation is awarded to the victims. The State party should take effective measures to improve the reporting of hate crimes. Furthermore, the State party should strengthen its efforts to eradicate stereotypes and discrimination against migrants, refugees and Roma, inter alia, by conducting public awareness campaigns to promote tolerance and respect for diversity.” In August 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) told Greece: “The Committee urges the State party to effectively prevent, combat and punish racist hate speech and hate crimes… The Committee wishes to underline that the fundamental right of freedom of expression should not undermine the principles of dignity, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination as the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities, among which is the obligation not to disseminate ideas on racial superiority or hatred.” In February 2015, already, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) told Greece: “The anti-terrorism discourse in the media also often targets immigrants and refugees, as well as the Muslim community in general… Islamophobia has dramatically increased since the far-right press began to link Islam to terrorism… ECRI recommends that Law 927/1979 is always applied to cases of hate speech in the media.”

Racist Crimes Watch (https://racistcrimeswatch.wordpress.com) was launched in November 2015 after the UN HRCttee recommendation to report to the authorities what we consider to be racist crimes including racist speech. It is the authorities’ responsibility to do what is necessary to implement their multiple obligations resulting from international law adhered to by Greece, including strengthening the law as these bodies asked. Soti Triantafyllou’s text as well as more than 150 other texts or actions have been reported to the specialized prosecutor on racist crimes. It is the prosecutor who chose which cases to refer to trial and on what legal grounds.

In any case, Article 1 of anti-racism Law 927/79, invoked for the trial of Soti Triantafyllou, punishes the following intentional conduct: “to publicly abet, instigate or incite, either orally or by the press or the internet or any other means, to acts or activities which may result to discrimination, hatred or violence against individuals or groups of individuals defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, in a manner which endangers public order or threatens life, liberty or physical integrity of the abovementioned persons.”

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled: In the Court’s opinion, although these statements did not directly recommend individuals to commit hateful acts, they are serious and prejudicial allegations. Moreover, the Court reiterates that inciting to hatred does not necessarily entail a call for an act of violence, or other criminal acts. Attacks on persons committed by insulting, holding up to ridicule or slandering specific groups of the population can be sufficient for the authorities to favour combating racist speech in the face of freedom of expression exercised in an irresponsible manner.”

Finally, the UN HRCttee has ruled: “racism did not constitute an opinion but an aggression, and that every time racism was allowed to express itself publicly, the public order was immediately and severely threatened.”

All those who consider that Soti Triantafyllou in her text makes serious and prejudicial allegations against Muslims and insults or slanders them have to understand that according to international law, in implementation of which Greece’s anti-racism law (anyway judged insufficient by the UN and the Council of Europe) was introduced, she is not expressing an opinion but engaging in an aggression threatening public order, and committing incitement to hatred, punished by Greek law too, as freedom of expression exercised in an irresponsible manner through the use of racist speech is not protected by international law and the Greek laws implementing the country’s international commitments.

All those who for the past ten days have engaged in slandering attacks against me for including Soti Triantafyllou’s text in the report to the prosecutor, who in turn chose it among so many other ones to refer to trial, are in effect –usually deliberately- opposing international law and favoring the free propagation of racist speech, many because as it emerges from their texts probably agree with it. At the same time, they do not have the honesty and the courage to direct their attacks at the prosecutor who is the sole responsible for the referral to trial.

Finally, I doubt that you will find even one of them having ever come out in favor of the freedom of expression and association of Greece’s Turks and Macedonians, systematically violated by Greece, which has been refusing to implement a dozen condemnations by the European Court of Human Rights of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Many of those attacking Greek Helsinki Monitor today in effect hate us because we are the only Greek civil society organization that has advocated the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and in the end personal dignity of these ethnic minorities.

It is they and not we who are obscurantists (in addition to being slanderers).

Panayote Dimitras
Spokesperson of Greek Helsinki Monitor
Member of the Executive Board of the European Humanist Federation


PS. The most thorough analysis in Greek is available here: Βασίλη Σωτηρόπουλου «Τιμωρείται ο σκέτος μισαλλόδοξος λόγος από τον αντιρατσιστικό νόμο;» http://elawyer.blogspot.gr/2017/05/blog-post_15.html


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