Lawyer Baiba Rudevska: We are gradually giving up our freedom
The phrase "hate speech" is currently megapopular, and it will become even more "popular" if the Saeima adopts these amendments to the law. Saeima deputy Andrejs Judins (JV) called for a more precise definition of hate crimes against sexual orientation in the law. It was rejected, and the Saeima Criminal Law Policy Subcommittee rejected the proposal to make crimes against sexual orientation count as an aggravating circumstance.
I must begin with the fact that freedom of speech and expression is one of the most fundamental human freedoms. Although it is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and in international treaties in the field of human rights, it must be understood that freedom of expression has not been granted to us by the state or international organizations.
Freedom of speech arises from human nature because humans are intelligent and social beings who, through language, express their thoughts and establish connections with fellow human beings. The state can only recognize and protect this freedom.
Of course, freedom of expression is not unlimited. However, if we are a free democratic society, we must always keep in mind: the general principle is human freedom, and any restriction is an exception. Consequently, it must be clearly set out in the law, pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim. In other words, the restriction must be very narrow and legally justified.
Criminal Law provides for the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. I will now say something that even the majority of professional lawyers are not aware of, namely: the most important thing in Criminal Law is not that people are punished for a certain type of action, but... that they are not punished for everything else! The law states that I am to be punished for such and such actions. For example, I can go to prison for a specific time for murder, theft or bribery. But if I make sure that if I do not kill, steal, bribe or do other things that are mentioned in the law, then I will not face any punishment, and as a law-abiding citizen, I will be able to live and sleep peacefully!
That's the key! It is one of the features that distinguishes a free civilized society from tyranny and chaos.
It is for this reason that the sections criminalizing specific offenses must be worded as clearly as possible. People need to know that such and such actions - or such and such words - will have such and such consequences. They must not be in a state of confusion about what is allowed and what is forbidden.
Are you talking specifically about "hate speech" now?
We now hear this phrase from all sides: "hate speech". They want to accustom us to it as if it were something clear and unquestionable. But in reality, "hate speech" is a strange and confusing expression. If the law says, for example, "intentional incitement to hatred that threatens to cause violence", then this is understandable.
But what is "hate speech"? It is a vague, blurred and subjective concept, the application of which to specific cases depends not on objective criteria but on the subjective perception of "affronted" persons and law enforcement authorities. So now some personally subjective offense will serve as a basis for prosecuting another person who has exercised his or her freedom of expression?
I am familiar with a number of foreign lawyers who are studying the application of "hate speech" laws in countries where such laws exist. Here is what they are saying: not only does the concept of "hate speech" have vague boundaries, but these boundaries are also constantly expanding. For example, the same expression that was a simple joke twenty years ago (perhaps an unfunny and a bad one, that would be judged in polite society) threatened the one who said it with a job loss ten years ago, but today threatens to send him to the court. So the vector of development is clear: from freedom to captivity. And this has a deterrent effect on society (called the "chilling effect"). People are afraid to openly discuss matters of public importance, so as not to offend anyone and end up in court.
To be fair, the term "hate speech" is not found in our Criminal Law, at least for the time being, and it is not in the proposed amendments. However, the expression “hate speech” is widely used in the annotation prepared by the drafters of the law.
But what exactly is currently happening in Latvian Criminal Law? What is the discussion about?
There is a wish to supplement paragraph 14 of the first part of Section 48 of the Criminal Law (which establishes aggravating circumstances for any criminal offense) with another aggravating circumstance - namely if the criminal offense is committed “due to social hatred”. This means that if a court has found the accused guilty and is convicting them, it can take aggravating circumstances into account and impose a more severe sentence when imposing sentence. The Saeima is currently discussing this.
What is social hatred? The fact that, for example, I have not liked some social stratum of society since reaching a certain age?
Good question! Social hatred as a concept is already present in the Criminal Law: Section 150 is called “Incitement of Social Hatred and Enmity”. I tried to find an annotation of the Saeima to this section in order to find out what the legislator really meant by the term “social hatred and enmity”. Unfortunately, I did not find anything in the annotation about this very concept and about Article 150... So either nothing was discussed or everything was clear to everyone.
But by this norm criminal cases are currently being initiated and real, living people are being tried. For example, a person writes a mean comment on the Internet that no one would have noticed ten or fifteen years ago. It is proven to cause "significant harm" and the commenter becomes a criminal.
In the original wording of the proposals, it was proposed to delete this element of “substantial harm” from the first part of Section 150 of the Criminal Law, which would make this provision an unambiguous and severe restriction of freedom of expression. As I have already mentioned, the Saeima is currently debating supplementing Section 48 of the Criminal Law with “social hatred” as an aggravating circumstance for almost any crime provided for in the Criminal Law (with certain exceptions) - whether it be fraud, theft, bodily harm, etc. But there is no clear definition of this concept of "social hatred" - what is it?! For example, someone will rob a rich person and it will be proven that the culprit has envied the victim because of his wealth. Will it be recognized as an aggravating circumstance - hatred of a certain social group, that is, the rich?
At the level of European Union policy, they are not talking about the rich or other similar social groups, but about one specific group - LGBT people. After all, there have been countless political calls for "cracking down on homophobia" and so on.
"Homophobia" - from a legal point of view, it is a strange, not quite understandable concept. In general, "homophobia", "Islamophobia", etc. are ideologically colored words that contain the medical term "phobia" - an irrational, pathological fear of something. If we use these words, we are acknowledging that there can be no rational opposition to homosexual lifestyles or Islam, and that critics of these phenomena are, at least to some extent, mentally ill. Words have tremendous power…
In the case of the bill we are discussing, we already see clearly who these particularly protected social groups will be. This can be seen in the annotation submitted to the Saeima, and it is clearly stated there that these amendments are intended to protect LGBT people. These goals were never hidden.
Currently, the Saeima is discussing "social hatred" now only as an aggravating circumstance - it is probably recognized as a compromise option. Explaining his position at last week's Saeima sitting, MP Judins no longer mentioned the LGBT group, but pointed out that such amendments would protect a social group - the "homeless" - from social hatred. Well, let's not be naive. Of course, I cannot put myself in the other person's head, but I very much doubt that Mr Judins is interested in the homeless, who are not his electorate at all…
It should be noted that we all belong to a social group.
Maybe even several at once. One person can be, for example, a rock fan, a satanist and a homosexual...
...and also a university lecturer, for example.
Yes. He belongs to several social groups. But it must be understood here that dividing people into "protected" and "vulnerable" groups, or "oppressors" and "oppressed", is a classic Marxist technique. This division usually has nothing to do with reality. For example, when the Chekists tortured people in the Corner House during the Ghastly Year, everything was clear from their point of view: the old Latvian teacher torn by torture and dying in a puddle of blood was the “oppressor” and the “abuser”, but the Chekist - the hangman and the torturer - the “oppressed”.
About the same thing is happening today. A few days ago, raging Antifa activists in Paris physically attacked a religious procession attended by about 300 Catholics. Several participants in the procession were beaten and injured, one of whom was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Our press does not write anything about it - and this is logical because, from the point of view of the ruling circles in Europe, the real perpetrators are not the left-wing extremists, but the peaceful Catholics.
Now there are two more social groups - the so-called "vaccinated" and "non-vaccinated". Which one will be more protected? You can guess the answer yourself. In addition - social groups can change every day. Yesterday the man was a rock fan, tomorrow he might be a fan of Wagner's music; a person's sexual behavior can also change. Why should these different social groups be especially protected? Let us be honest, at least to ourselves: it is quite clear which social group the applicants and promoters of the bill are talking about.
Won't be able to criticize the government, parliament, civil service...
Of course. They are also social groups! In modern Russia, for example, the rule of law on "inciting social hatred" is used in practice to punish criticism of the police. The police are also a social group! And here too - the court will turn the case any way they want. It will be a real weapon that can be turned against anyone at any time. It will also be great if you need to get a political competitor out of the way.
It seems that the Saeima has nothing better to do. There are countless issues that need to be addressed, but MPs are dealing with some kind of "hate speech" and "social hatred" issues. That is just miserable.
Only we think it is miserable. Yes, the public now feels that this is an insignificant issue against other issues. The moment is really good: people are busy with Covid, many do not know what will happen to them tomorrow, whether they will have work, etc., so in the Saeima you can vote on many things quietly and imperceptibly - especially if it happens without serious discussions even among professionals. Various situations are cleverly used, such as the tragic case in Tukums, when a young man died.
This has been a common tactic of LGBT ideologues in many countries for many years: to use such things to instantly shout that it was a "homophobic crime", so the state would take more active action. The public sympathizes, shows understanding, obediently agrees that changes in laws and tougher penalties are needed. Conservatives and Christian churches are immediately found guilty.
In reality, it often turns out that no "homophobic crime" has taken place. However, when the investigating authorities come up with the results of the investigation, people are no longer interested in it, but the noise that was initially made is still in people's heads.
Our people should also learn from the examples of other countries, be able to recognize and understand these tactics. It is therefore strange - I would even say criminally naive - for some MPs to hope for some kind of compromise in the Criminal Law. It should be understood that if the planned amendments to the law are adopted, LGBT activists will start going to court about every case when someone has said or done something they dislike.
There will be show trials, as has been the case abroad for some time. And we need to be particularly vigilant because "progressive" MPs will not simply abandon their intention to restrict freedom of expression and criminalize "hate speech".
People will adapt: they will no longer say what they think.
That is exactly what will happen. Until recently, before regaining independence, we in Latvia were in a situation where freedom of speech did not exist at all. People were punished for simply expressing opinions. Political anecdotes could be told only in the kitchen, only in the presence of the closest people.
Some are very keen to restore this situation. Therefore, one very important thing must be understood. If the Criminal Law provides for a penalty for "hate speech", then it will allow people to be effectively punished even without a formal conviction. If a criminal case is filed that ultimately finishes or ends with the acquittal of the accused, he will still be effectively punished: loss of time and health during endless interrogations, financial loss… That is what LGBT activists and other left-wing ideologues want.
I emphasize again: any articles of the Criminal Law that deal with punishing a person for expressing an opinion must be extremely detailed and seriously discussed and substantiated. And if in doubt, it is better not to accept them.
Who needs all this nonsense?
We are constantly being told that such protection of social groups against "hate speech" and "hate crimes" is the way to a cohesive society! But what kind of cohesion can there be if one part of the people are not allowed to express their opinion at all? What cohesion can there be when one group of people is initially defined as a victim and another as a violent oppressor? The victims are, of course, homosexuals, but the oppressors are all conservatives and especially clergy of traditional denominations.
When the Chairperson of the Constitutional Court Osipova commented on the scandalous judgment of the Constitutional Court of November 12, she mentioned some "European standards"... It must be understood that this is not about legal standards, but about ideological and political positions. These approaches are based on the definition of groups of victims according to the logic of Marxism - exactly as I have just described it. These "standards" are being politically imposed on EU countries, rights are being ideologised.
Something similar happened in Soviet times - we have already lived it. Do we really need it again? Why are our lawyers silent? Don't they understand what's going on? We must hold up freedom of expression as the greatest value. If we are not allowed to speak, we will live in fear again. When will our politicians finally realize that people must be allowed to be free? Of course, we are not talking about extreme cases where some fool really does call for violence.
Any normal society will treat such cases with intolerance. But we are obviously not considered normal people, so some parliamentarians need to tell us what is "hate speech" and other absurd constructs.
I have just one question: who do they want to protect by depriving us of freedom of expression? We will be told: you must not talk about such and such topics, and you will be punished if you criticize certain groups.
We will end up losing our freedom... And we will lose because we didn't know how to appreciate it. In the barricades of 1991, people advocated that Latvia should have Freedom: freedom to speak, write, think, freedom to create works of art, freedom to leave the country, freedom to develop science...
Only 30 years have passed and we no longer remember anything, we are gradually putting our Freedom at the disposal of some marginalized groups. And that's pathetic.