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LN: Only courts, not petitions can say what spread of hatred is

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Prague, Dec 10 (CTK) – Only independent courts, not politicians and other public personalities in their appeals can decide on who has committed the crime of incitement to hatred and violence, Zbynek Petracek writes in daily Lidove noviny (LN) yesterday.
Almost everyone would sign a petition against populists spreading hatred. However, it is problematic to apply it to particular people, acts and threats, he says.
Some may imagine Martin Konvicka, chairman of the Bloc Against Islam movement and his sharp anti-Muslim statements, while others may remember Muslims chanting anti-Jewish slogans at a demonstration in Berlin.
Petracek says the number of calls for violence and intolerance has been rising all over the world and politicians, intellectuals and other celebrities are trying to face them with their appeals.
One of them is the recent Advent Appeal, signed by several thousand people, including WWII veterans, resistance fighters, Holocaust survivors and former political prisoners and dissidents, which warns of hatred, aggression and fascistoid tendencies of a part of Czech society.
This document reveals the problems not only of the genre of appeal, but of politics in the area of the freedom of expression and “hate speech,” Petracek writes.
He says this has been the strongest issue this year. In January, the jihadists´ attacks on the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris stirred up a wave in defence of an absolute freedom of speech. However, at the end of the same year, this freedom is being limited in the name of the fight against insults and hatred.
First, a call for decency and against hatred is undoubtedly useful, especially if it is signed by respectable personalities as well as many ordinary people and in the atmosphere of escalating emotions, Petracek admits.
Second, he adds, a number of recent statements in the public space go beyond the decency limits and even beyond what the Czech society that experienced two totalitarian regimes should tolerate as politically admissible, he adds.
However, even though some statements make a disgusting impression as something that cannot be accepted in society, they can still be just “the price paid for the achievement of the freedom of expression,” Petracek points out.
But in the tense atmosphere people too easily use terms such as “spreading hatred,” which only the judiciary can classify, Petracek says.
He asks where the borderline between the freedom of expression and hate speech lies. This borderline is very thin and hard to define, which is also why it should be up to courts to do so.
Petracek also writes that a number of arbitrators assessing Islam as well as the freedom of expression and assembly emerged this year.
He refers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying in reaction to a Pegida demonstration against the influx of Muslim immigrants that “there is no space in Germany for chasing and offending people coming to the country.”
How can a chancellor, and not a court, be judging whether the spreading of hatred has been committed and for whom there is space in Germany? Petracek asks.
He says the same is true of Konvicka as the embodiment of those who criticise or directly defame Islam and its followers. Konvicka faces charges and a trial, which is positive, since exactly a court can define the thin borderline between the freedom of expression and hate speech at least a little bit clearly.
Until then, the fighters for the good will have a stronger and stronger feeling that exactly they are an independent hand of justice, Petracek notes.
The authors of such well-meant appeals believe that opinion gaps can be overcome by “ostracising” the opposite opinion. However, in this case the civic appeal “Let us not allow ourselves to be deprived of our freedom” that appears after every big terrorist attack must be taken seriously, Petracek writes.
The freedom of expression must be defended even if it can bear ugly fruit sometimes, he says, citing the words by Larry Flynt, U.S. publisher of pornographic magazines, in Milos Forman´s film People versus Larry Flynt: “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.”
“Neither the followers of the good, nor the respectable chancellor, nor a respectable number of respectable petition signatories can limit this freedom. It can be limited only by law and an independent court interpreting it. This should be a lesson learnt in 2015,” Petracek concludes.

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