Participation in the conference “The power of Words: Recognition and treatment against hate speech” on June 18, 2024

On June 18, the International Day for Countering Hate Speech, “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center attended the event "The power of Words: Recognition and treatment against hate speech" organized by the Committee of Human Rights of the Cyprus Bar Association and the Committee of Journalism along with the Association of Editors Cyprus.  

During the event, the speakers defined hate speech and discussed its impact on the Cypriot community as well as to what extent it should be considered an unlawful act that should be criminalized. They analyzed how the national legislation should intervene and criminalize hate speech cases that overstep legal boundaries, recognizing that the issue is not only a social problem but also a legal one. Hate speech was seen as an act that contains the element of force and can be harmful, and that legal boundaries should be set around it. 

In Cyprus, the Law on the Combating of Certain Forms and Expression of Racism and Xenophobia by means of Criminal Law, of 2011 (Law 134(I)/20116) which was introduced to transpose Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA and a 2015 Criminal Code amendment, criminalizes any person who deliberately and publicly disseminates and incites to violence or hatred in any manner against a group of persons.  

The speakers noted that while the legal framework covering hate speech does exist, it targets specific groups only. Further, only two cases have been brought before the court for judgement, which indicates that hate speech incidents are either not identified and recorded properly or, even if properly recorded, they are not prosecuted most of the time, because they are not substantiated, according to the authorities.

During the event, the need to create a holistic and inclusive legal framework that criminalizes all forms of hate speech protecting all groups of people irrespectively and fairly was highlighted. It was emphasized that hate speech demands an effective legislative framework to criminalize offenses that override the law itself, not just the societal norms. It was also noted that the Cypriot courts tend to set the threshold for hate speech incidents too high, and as a result, people committing such a criminal offence remained unpunished. Based on Article 47 (1)(b) of the Criminal Code (Ch.154) an act of hate speech that creates conflicts, erodes the public order or creates an unfair imbalance of power between its citizens, should be criminalized. No comments or words intended to create harm, discriminate and marginalize a group of people should be allowed in a democratic community. 

It was also emphasized that the expansion of social media has contributed to the increase in hate speech crimes and makes it an even more challenging issue to withstand. Similarly, last year, a report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) found that hate speech affects several groups and remains widespread in the Cypriot public discourse. It also identified a lack of comprehensive systems in place to monitor hate speech incidents. 

Both governmental and non-governmental bodies are involved in initiatives and policy-making reforms aiming to monitor and prevent offline and online hate speech. Some civil society organizations have been trying to fill in the gap left by the authorities by raising awareness of the issue, through many innovative solutions. This includes workshops implemented in schools on existing anti-racist policies developed by the Ministry of Education and different NGOs, including HFC, which provides various anti-bullying workshops and seminars in public and private schools.  

Taking it a step further, HFC is currently implementing two projects on hate speech, co-funded by the European Union. The Hate Trackers Into Action (n°101131504) and Hate Trackers Beyond Borders (n. 2022-2-IT03-KA220-YOU-000096741) projects aim to mobilize young people and train youth activists to counteract online and offline hate speech and propose alternative narratives. In collaboration with an international partnership, HFC strives to empower the community of #hatetrackers at the European level in countries facing relevant online discrimination cases. 

If you are interested in learning more about the project and the topic, visit the Hate Trackers website and the Hate Speech Infographic developed by a young activist. Innovative resources, such as an informative WebApp on hate speech and a Psychological First-Aid toolkit, are available to the public.