The whistleblower protection bill, which has drawn diametrically opposite opinions from various groups in society, has been put to first reading in the Parliament of Estonia. Our partner Carri Ginter says in an article published on the financial and legal news website Rup that he has worked hard to prevent previous versions of the whistleblower protection bill from becoming law because they were clearly too restrictive of the freedom of speech.


According to the Bill, public incitement to hatred, violence, or discrimination against a group or a member of a group of persons on the grounds of ethnicity, race, colour, sex, disability, language, descent, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion or property or social status in such a way that gives rise to a fear that the incitement will be followed by an act of violence or a substantial threat to the security of society will be punishable.


“The versions that were around as recently as last year were very dangerous to freedom of speech. Since I saw that this topic would come back to the table sooner or later, associate professor Anneli Soo and I took up an endeavour to look for the least restrictive path for Estonia in EU law,” Ginter said, describing their proposal to limit criminal liability only to those cases where there is a threat to public order as the best possible solution. He also said that the current bill, in its conservatism, should also be suitable and safe for the opposition. “If we don’t do this now, a new bill will emerge in the future, which will be much more dangerous for freedom of speech,” Ginter added.


The Bill does not intend to criminalise the publication of critical or shocking views, nor does it prevent the expression of views that may offend certain social groups. In these cases, civil proceedings can still be brought if necessary.


Five points of the elements of the offence

The authors of the Bill say the plan is to use the whistleblower protection bill only in extreme cases. Markus Kärner, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Justice for criminal policy, has said that in order for the elements of the offence to be complete, five points must be present: there must be incitement, meaning a call to hatred, violence or discrimination; the incitement must be public; the incitement must be directed against a group of persons or a member of a group of persons in relation to one of the aforementioned elements; the incitement must be carried out in such a way that, from the point of view of the average reasonable bystander, there is reason to fear that the incitement will be followed by an act of violence or a significant threat to the security of society; and the conduct must be intentional.


The explanatory memorandum to the Bill lists the main changes that the law would bring about. The main fundamental difference is that under current law, a person can be punished for hate speech or a call to action if a real consequence followed it – someone’s health was harmed, there was a real threat to someone’s life or property – with the new law there is no need for anything to happen at all. Subject to punishment is an act that “may violate public order, or that is threatening, abusive or offensive.” It does not matter whether the group supposed to be offended says they were or were not offended.


If, up to now, such acts are punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years, the punishment set forth in the new bill is one to three years in jail.


Read more on Baltic News Service.