OPINION concerning the Draft Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on combating hate speech

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF BULGARIA                                           
Dear members of the Council of Europe,
I am addressing you, in my capacity as chairman of the Association Society and Values (Association). The Association, that I preside as a chairman, defends the human dignity and freedom, marriage and family in Bulgaria since 2007. Thanks to the freedom of speech we have our Association in cooperation with other civil organizations, were able to stop some harmful to the individual, family and society bills[1]. We were able to achieve these results by revealing and making public the consequences of these harmful policies. We present and disseminate opinions, based on scientific researches that examine the results and consequences of similar policies adopted in other countries, in view of Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria, and domestic and international legislation adopted by our country. 
We are deeply concerned about the Draft Recommendation made by the Committee of Ministers to member States on combating hate speech, given the fact how they are applied and how they affect, directly and through respective domestic legislation, the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion in other countries.  

We have noticed that the terms “gender” and “gender identity” are included in the proposed definition for hate speech[2]. We consider that such terms should not be included as there is no commonly agreement on them and their definition. The Bulgarian government, in response to the UN Human Rights Council of 15.02.2021, points out: “In all provisions and in relation to all recommendations where the terms “gender” and/or “gender identity” is used, Bulgaria considers the terminology in light of the gender binary model enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, where the physical attributes are indivisibly related to the social constructs.”[3] Other countries share this position as well.   

As the draft recommendation prepares the ground for application of its principles to all groups and members in the society, as well to the states and its institutions, we are concerned that practical implementation of hate speech regulations will be used to silence opponents and opinions, in the media, educational and governmental institution, in regard of the application of gender policies toward children and society as a whole. 

Opinions and convictions of officials, politicians, religious and community leaders, civil servants, public employees, law enforcement agents, members of the judiciary, personnel of medical services, journalists, teachers and children educators, that are hold and delivered in good faith will be suppressed or may be suppressed because they will present in different light the consequences of gender policies on the children and the society. One such bleak example is a story of the former Minister of Interior and Member of the Finnish Parliament Mrs. Päivi Räsänen (a medical doctor, mother of five children, and grandmother of six children), who is facing three criminal charges, brought by the Finnish Prosecutor General at the end of April. Her alleged crime is that she publicly voiced her deeply held beliefs.[4]

We consider, that many “hate speech” laws are based on subjectivity and on vaguely defined terms, such as ‘insult’, ‘belittle’ and ‘offend’, that are interpreted inconsistently and imposed arbitrarily. These create wide preconditions for abuse[5] and have a serious impact on freedom of speech and religious freedom. In many cases, even the fact that what is said is an obvious truth, it is not considered as a legitimate defense.

We are deeply concerned as we see that those[6] in the political, academic and media sphere who dare to discuss scientifically the origin, risks and consequences of non-heterosexual behavior or oppose the attempts to redefine marriage between a man and a woman, are facing the danger of being excluded from the public debate, of being stigmatized, harassed and discriminated against in various ways by various lobbies, and in some cases they risk to loose their professional position (as Päivi Räsänen). 

We are convinced that in a democratic society the protection of the rights and freedoms of a group of people should not be at the expense of the same rights and freedoms of other groups of people, when it comes to fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Art. 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Art. 19, the European Convention on Human Rights – Art. 10, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – Art. 11, and the Constitution of Bulgaria – Art. 39. 

We are concerned, that the proposed “hate speech” regulations in the Draft recommendation would cause a new form of oppression, injustice and division of the society due to the suppression the freedom of conscience and convictions and the unfair and disproportionate treatment of different groups.

The proposed Draft recommendation would create a privileged group of people and individuals by giving them a special and favored status within and with the member states, by obligating the same member states to defend their rights. Thus established defense is provided through creation and maintenance of censorship. This censorship violates the protected rights of other individuals and groups of individuals. The people of Bulgaria and Eastern European nations are very sensitive toward all forms of abridgement of their rights, especially the right of freedom of expression, as provided under the Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights. 

The provisions and regulations of our Bulgarian Constitution, and provisions and regulations of the domestic criminal, civil and administrative law in Bulgaria provide sufficient protection for each person in the country against all forms of violation of their rights. 

We consider that it is inadmissible the adoption of a document that does not have a stable protection of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. In relation with the above we kindly ask you to withdraw the adoption of the proposed Draft Recommendation to member states on combating hate speech.

Association Society and Values    

[1]https://www.sva.bg/en/about-us/ In the last few years we received the support of over 65 000 people and over 85 civil organizations.

[2] The definition is given in the Appendix Chapter 1 point 3 of the Council of Europe Draft Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on combating hate speech

[3]  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BGindex.aspx


[5] At present the term “hate speech” has no universally agreed definition. Unfortunately European countries have passed extreme laws on criminal speech, with law enforcement directed against those who do not share the views of those in power on certain issues. In Austria, “insulting or belittling with the intention of violating the human dignity of others” leads to a two-year prison sentence. In Greece, “public insult to God” leads to a sentence of two years in prison, and inciting hatred against the Hungarian state can be punished by three years in prison. See Section 283 of the Austrian Penal Code, Section 198 of the Greek Penal Code and Article IX (5) of the Hungarian Constitution. https://adfinternational.org/resource/hate-speech-laws/

[6] Including prominent LGBTI people as the world tennis champion Martina Navratilova, lesbian and LGBTI activist https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/18/tennis/martina-navratilova-trans-women-comments-spt-scli-intl/index.html as well as Jean-Mark, a French homosexual mayor https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/french-homosexuals-demonstrate-against-same-sex-marriage
The former minister of the interior and member of the Finnish parliament Päivi Räsänen, see the link in 4

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