On July 13, 2021, the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, in the framework of its competences as an Equality Body, issued a Statement regarding the phenomenon of speech that promotes/incites racism and xenophobia and the specific implications that such speech has when it is expressed online through the internet.
The Statement was drafted, firstly, on the occasion of a Decision of the Cyprus Supreme Court, dated 1 July 2021, that sentenced 2 Cypriot women who attacked, in a racist manner, a Russian woman living permanently in Cyprus and, secondly, on the occasion of a joint action by the Office of the Commissioner with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, aiming to strengthen the framework for combating hate crime in Cyprus.
In the Statement/Report, the Commissioner initially noted that hate speech is a global phenomenon, which is internationally recognized as having particularly negative consequences (both at individual and societal level), and, in order to address it, a variety of actions have been promoted in recent years, by international bodies and organizations.
It was also noted that, unfortunately, phenomena of hate speech are quite common in Cyprus, which is something that also emerges from the number and the nature of recent complaints submitted to our Office, regarding incidents of racist and xenophobic rhetoric. These phenomena, as the Commissioner mentioned, are mainly due to the migration and refugee flows that have been observed in our country for the last 25 years, and they have increased in recent years, in the light of the economic crisis and the difficult consequences that this crisis has caused (such as unemployment and e reduced welfare support ).
In the Statement/Report, the Commissioner presented and analyzed the institutional framework governing the issues of hate speech and freedom of expression, making more specific references to: the relevant provisions of the Cyprus Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, the legal framework that specifically prohibits hates speech, as well as in relevant case law of both the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and national courts.
The Commissioner noted, on the one hand, that the right to freedom of expression and dissemination of ideas is legally protected as a fundamental human right and that, as the ECHR has pointed out, it is considered as one of the main pillars of a pluralistic and democratic society (even protecting views which may disturb, offend or shock part of society). On the other hand, she pointed out that the exercise of this right is not absolute and may, by law, be subject to conditions and restrictions, in cases where opinions expressed promote or incite hostility towards specific groups of the population, but also more generally in cases where issues of respect and protection of the rights of other persons are raised.
Finally, the Commissioner suggested that media organizations should set up a system to control the comments of their readers, in order to identify and delete, in a short period of time, those comments that constitute hate speech (as indicated by the ECHR in the case of Delfi AS v. Estonia).
Furthermore, the Police should:
- in the framework of its wider action to combat racism and discrimination, place among its priorities the combatting of illegal hate speech in public discourse.
- take measures that facilitate the identification, recording and investigation of public statements, publications or posts that constitute extreme hate speech, and, in cooperation with the Law Office of the Republic, promote the effective prosecution of those who have committed relevant offenses.
- develop training, education and awareness programs for its members, especially in matters of hate speech and how to effectively address it.
For more information, download a fuller summary of the speech below.
Source: Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman), Cyprus