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22nd Jan 2022

EU tables hate-crime rules to protect women

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The EU Commission has laid out plans for a legal basis to criminalise hate speech and hate crime at EU level, paving the way for Europe-wide sanctions on hate-motivated crimes.

The initiative, unveiled on Thursday (9 December), is particularly aimed at protecting women and the LGBTIQ community as EU member states are already required to criminalise crimes committed with a racist or xenophobic motivation.

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The amendment to existing rules would enable the commission to put forward legislation to punish misogyny and anti-LGBTIQ abuse online and offline.

The commission has said that "the need to effectively address hate speech and hate crime on other grounds ... and in particular on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, age, and disability has been identified."

The Covid-19 pandemic has "heightened the feelings of insecurity, isolation and fear", which "created an atmosphere in which hate speech has flourished" and used to target marginalised people, resulting in more hate crime.

"Hate is moving into the mainstream," the commission's initiative warned , adding that in the last decades there has been a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crime in the bloc.

The EU-wide crimes' list already include crimes related to terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation of women and children, as well as corruption.

Collision

But the proposed changes are likely to put the commission on collision course with the Hungarian and Polish governments.

The conservative governments in Warsaw and Budapest have rejected what they see as cultural pressure from the West.

In Poland, local authorities declared "LGBTIQ-free" zones, for which the commission has already launched a probe, and Hungary passed an anti-LGBTIQ law wrapped in a legislation protecting children, which also came under EU scrutiny.

Recently, prime minister Viktor Orbán described the new left-wing, green German coalition government as "pro-immigration, pro-gender, federalist" and as having a "pro-German Europe agenda", with the EU on the way toward becoming "a kind of post-Christian and post-national state".

However, the commission needs the support of all member states, as the council will have to unanimously agree on the proposal so that the commission could eventually put forward legislation tackling hate crimes.

Hungary and Poland have systematically vetoed common positions which include language protecting gender quality or LGBTIQ people.

Poland will give its first assessment of the commission's idea at an EU justice ministers' meeting on Friday, a Polish diplomat said without going into details.

Consequences

The commission argued in its request published on Thursday that given their impact on fundamental rights and values, hate speech and hate crime should be criminalised at EU level.

The commission cited case law from the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights to underline that "the right to freedom of expression does not prevent criminal law responses to certain forms of hate speech".

The executive also argued that hate speech and hate crime created a climate of radicalisation and polarisation which has long-lasting consequences on social stability.

A 2020 global survey said that 52 percent of young women and girls experienced online violence, including threats.

The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) showed in a report that 31 percent of Muslim women wearing the headscarf in public experienced some form of harassment and threats in the last 12 months.

In 2018 another FRA report said that one in 10 LGBTIQ respondents said they had been physically or sexually attacked because they were LGBTIQ.

In another survey, cited by the commission, 47 percent of European women in public life reported having received death threats or threats of rape or beatings and 58 percent had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks

Female journalists are subject to more threats than their male counterparts in particular in the form of online harassment, the executive pointed out.

The initiative is part of a broader effort by the commission to combat online hate speech and to crack down on illegal content.

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