Hate speech (2): we have laws, but no practice with a conclusion
It is important to learn the narrow boundary between freedom of expression and hate speech, which in no case should be crossed if we want to build a democratic society. But we cannot neglect the initial goal of social networks, which today seems to go in another direction.
Written by: Bjanka Stankovikj
In Macedonia, the one who, through an information and computer system, will spread hate speech or threaten to commit a crime, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to five years. Experts agree that there is an appropriate legal framework, but the problem is in the competent institutions.
Whosoever threatens via a computer system to commit a crime for which a sentence of five years’ imprisonment or a more severe punishment against a person is foreseen based on sex, race, skin colour, class, membership in a marginalized group, ethnic background, language, nationality, social background, religious belief, other types of beliefs, education, political affiliation, personal or social condition, mental or physical disability, age, family or marital status, property status, health condition, or any other ground foreseen by law or a ratified international agreement, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of one to five years.
Spreading racist and xenophobic material
through a computer system
Whosoever spreads via a computer system racist and xenophobic written material, photo or other representation of an idea or theory helping, promoting or stimulating hatred, discrimination or violence in the public against any person or group, based on sex, race, skin colour, class, membership in a marginalized group, ethnic background, language, nationality, social background, religious belief, other types of beliefs, education, political affiliation, personal or social condition, mental or physical disability, age, family or marital status, property status, health condition, or any other ground foreseen by law or a ratified international agreement, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of one to five years.
Kordalov said that existing legal regulations offer protection, but what we lack is good implementation i.e. legal application. Good practice and appropriate staff are needed, and for that, quality education adapted to the new time and trends is necessary.
Slavica Anastasovska agrees with this. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights constantly follows the hate speech, identifies it, points out which member should be prosecuted and classifies it according to the practice of the European Court, but in Macedonia courts do not respond to these situations.
“The public prosecutor’s office seems not to be interested in these procedures. There are about 7 criminal charges from 2015, 2014 and 2013 for which there is still no indictment, let alone a final outcome. There are still 13 charges submitted to the Ministry of Interior, which have also not been processed at all”, said Anastasovska.
According to statistics in the Helsinki Committee, over 300 hate speech reports have been registered in the period from February 2014 to October 2018. Most of them, 180 reports refer to hate speech due to ethnicity, and 106 due to political affiliation. Reports regard mostly Facebook and Twitter statuses.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs says that according to Article 144, paragraph 4, in their official electronic records, a total of 18 criminal acts related to “endangering of the safety” were registered, committed by means of an information system, and 14 perpetrators were reported, out of which:
- In 2016, three criminal offenses were registered and one perpetrator was reported;
- In 2017, five criminal offenses were registered and two perpetrators were reported;
- In the period from January to September 2018, 10 criminal offenses were registered and 11 perpetrators were reported.
The process to solve this problem is slow and difficult, but in order to break the magic circle in which hate speech is responded to by hate speech, we need long-term strategies. Kordalov believes that the authorities must invest in expert and potential staff, and not to employ on other grounds.
“Those teams will need to implement such reforms free of political, national, gender, and any other constraints and prejudices. Only in this way can we start building new individuals immune to negative phenomena in the Internet sphere. As societies, we need to build “defence mechanisms” in each individual for personal handling and recognition of such phenomena,” adds Kordalov.
The media, especially internet portals, due to clicks and quick earnings, transfer information with carelessness. Experts and part of the public agree that they should not blindly transmit Facebook or Twitter status of well-known people whose word has a different weight and can cause consequences greater than expected, given that they have thousands of followers.