Oops, we almost missed something. In a cloak and dagger operation, the Bundestag made certain statements a punishable offense in Germany at the end of last week with the votes of the traffic light government and the Union. The problem: the law is far too vague.
What happened is as follows: Late on Thursday evening, a law passed the Bundestag in the so-called omnibus procedure, which means that the text is linked to another law without any relation to the content. The procedure guarantees minimal attention.
It was decided to expand the criminal offense of incitement to hatred. A new paragraph criminalizes “the public condoning, denial and grossly trivializing of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when the act is committed in a manner likely to incite hatred or violence and to disturb public peace .”
What that means is pretty clear: for example, anyone who incites hatred against people from Ukraine at a pro-Putin rally is committing a crime and faces imprisonment for up to three years or a fine. So far so understandable. And it is also clear that hate speech that calls for acts of violence is out of the question and must be punished.
Fairly clear, however, is not clear enough on an issue as crucial as freedom of expression. “Crude belittlement” and “capable of disturbing the public peace” are extremely flexible terms. If, for example, the sentence: “After 20 years of provocation by NATO, Putin is drawing a line and taking back a country in which Russia sees its roots,” falls under this new fact, if Putin supporters then march off and public peace disturb? As wrong as the sentence is and as clear as Putin’s violation of international law is, it must be possible to deal with such or similar allegations outside of criminal law.
Freedom of expression is one of the highest legal interests. This is because democracy draws its strength not from suppressing or shouting down other opinions, but from confronting them. In the arena of opinions, the number one rule is that no argument is forbidden. As a journalist, I stand unconditionally behind the sentence attributed to Voltaire: “I may have a different opinion than you, but I would give my life if you were allowed to express your opinion freely.” The secret omnibus law makes this attitude increasingly impossible for me.