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Greece: New Proposal on Fighting Racism and Xenophobia

(Mar. 7, 2011) The Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights in Greece published on its website a new legislative initiative on combating certain types of racism and xenophobia through the application of criminal law, with a view to soliciting public consultation on the initiative during the period of February 22 to March 3, 2011. The proposal is designed to harmonize Greece's domestic legislation with European Union legislation, that is, the Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on Combating Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia by Means of Criminal Law (2008 Official Journal L 358, 55) and also to conform with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which Greece ratified in 1970. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is in charge of monitoring implementation of the 1966 Convention, has been urging Greece to revise its Law No. 927/1979, as amended, because the Law has been deemed inadequate for dealing with current forms of racism. The Law has rarely been used by courts in Greece; the first conviction under its provisions apparently occurred in 2008. (Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, Proposal of a Law on Combating Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia by Criminal Law Provisions [in Greek] (last visited Mar. 4, 2011).)

The new proposal criminalizes a number of actions.

· Incitement to violence or xenophobia in public, either orally, through the media, or through the Internet or any other manner or means, against an individual or a group of persons defined on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic background, or sexual orientation or against things used exclusively by such persons or groups and in a manner that may threaten the public order, will be punished by imprisonment for a term of at least six months and up to three years and a fine ranging from €1,000-3,000 (about US$1,380-$4,000).

· Commission of the above acts will be punishable by a prison term of at least one year and a fine of €3,000-10,000 (about US$4,000-$13,800).

· Establishing or participating in an organization that aims to commit any of the above crimes will be punishable by imprisonment for at least two years.

· Condoning, denying, or trivializing in public, either orally, through the media, or through the Internet or by any other means or forms, crimes against genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes as established under articles 6-8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court or the crimes set forth in article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, where such conduct is directed against a group of persons defined on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation in a manner that is likely to incite to violence or hatred, will be punishable by at least two years' imprisonment and a fine of from €1,000-3,000. This provision will be applicable on the basis of a final decision rendered by a Greek or an international court.

· Commission of the above acts through the Internet will be determined based on either of two conditions: a) if the perpetrator is in Greece, irrespective of whether the conduct involves material hosted by an information system in Greece and b) if the material used by the perpetrator is hosted by an information system in Greece, irrespective of whether the perpetrator is in Greece.

· A legal person will be held liable if any of the above acts is committed for the benefit or on behalf of the legal person.

A major complaint against the proposal, as revealed through the public consultation process and in the media, is that it limits freedom of speech. The Minister of Justice, Haris Kastanidis, defended it, however, stating that the proposal bans only expressions or opinions that encourage racial violence and hatred and that some of the media had misunderstood some of its key provisions. As the Minister pointed out, the new proposal covers groups and individuals not currently protected under the current legislation, that is, groups defined by religion and sexual orientation.