German parliament votes to toughen online hate speech rules

25 Jun 2020 Facebook Created with Sketch. Twitter Created with Sketch. Email Print
German parliament votes to toughen online hate speech rules

Germany's lower house of parliament (Bundestagapproved a law on 18 June that would force large social media companies to proactively report serious cases of hate speech to the Federal Criminal Police Office. A vote on the legislation is scheduled in the upper house of the parliament (Bundesrat) on 18 September, but it could take place earlier than that, according to government officials. 

The legislation builds upon the Network Enforcement Act, which obligates social media companies to remove hate speech within 24 hours or face a penalty. The legislation would also ensure longer sentences for online crimes found to have antisemitic motivations. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved similar legislation in February. 

Federal Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht said that the legislation will be crucial in the fight against hate crimes. “Anyone who incites and threatens online more forcefully and effectively pursued in the future,” Lambrecht said. “Hate crimes should finally end up where they belong: in court. Hatred strikes Jews, Muslims, refugees and especially women......Hate hits our democracy right in the heart.” 

The passage was applauded by Dr. Josef Schuster, WJC Vice President, and President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who said that the legislation’s passage was a “clear signal against the growing right-wing extremism and antisemitism in our country.” 

“Now it is important that further steps for implementation follow. The judiciary and law enforcement agencies must be staffed in such a way that they are able to investigate reports of hate crimes by the networks. There is also a need for increased sensitivity when it comes to punishing antisemitic crimes. Right-wing radicals and antisemites have recently gained too much ground. This must finally be stopped,” he added. 

While antisemitism and hatred of minority groups often manifest online, reports also show a sharp rise in in-person antisemitic crimes and assaults. In May, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer reported that antisemitic crimes in the country reached their highest levels since the country began recording such incidents in 2001. According to Seehofer, there were 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, an increase of 13% from 2018. 

In June, authorities in the Munich municipality effectively banned displays of yellow Stars of David at demonstrations protesting the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has reported an overall increase in antisemitic symbols and slogans at these demonstrations, including several instances of demonstrators wearing yellow Star of David patches, labeled “Not Vaccinated,” to imply that Jews are deliberately spreading the virus. 

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