TOUGHER PUNISHMENTS PLANNED FOR HATE CRIMES

TOUGHER PUNISHMENTS PLANNED FOR HATE CRIMES (Finland)

In addition to ethnic origin, bill mentions sexual orientation as basis for motive

17/12/2010- A government bill proposes prison sentences of up to four years for hate crimes. The toughest sentences can be imposed on aggravated incitement against a sector of the population - such as urging people to commit murder or genocide. The government wants to add a separate category of aggravated hate crime to the criminal code. The proposal is part of a package of legislation that is going before Parliament on Friday, aimed at clamping down on crimes against ethnic groups, as well as other population groups, such as sexual minorities. In crimes of incitement, the hate crime category would include acts which are motivated by a victim’s ethnicity, religious or other conviction, sexual orientation, disability, as well as similar factors. The emphasis is that the punishments would apply to actual crimes motivated by hate, and not mere acts of racism. In addition to actual human beings, a “legal person”, such as an association or group, could also be held responsible for crimes of incitement against an ethnic group, illegal threats, or aggravated slander or libel.

Minister of Justice Tuija Brax (Green) emphasised on Thursday that the bill is not intended to restrict free speech on socially important issues. She said that it will continue to be legal to voice severe criticism of immigration or policy towards foreigners, and against those responsible for such policies. The bill is also not aimed at placing restrictions on research or science. What would be punishable would be making threats, slander, and vilification, either on paper or online. Punishable acts would include displaying or spreading messages that endorse violence or discrimination against a group. Criminal hate speech would also include comparing people with animals, or labelling entire groups as criminals or of lesser value. The new bill would add a mention of displaying illegal material as a crime itself. At present, the law mentions “distribution”. The change was prompted by the Internet. If the bill passes into law, it will no longer be possible to split hairs about who is actually responsible for what appears on a web page. Ministry official Mirja Salonen says that the clause would apply to someone who deliberately allows or urges another person to post hate messages on his or her website or Facebook page, for instance, and fails to remove them when called upon to do so.

© The Helsingin Sanomat http://www.hs.fi/english/

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