The 1997 Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on hate speech condemns this kind of expression and aims at providing states with some common criteria for national legislation. The text points out among other things that these expressions can often be more harmful if they are disseminated by the media. It also recommends states to clearly distinguish the responsibility of the author of the statement from that of the media which reports it. Other declarations and recommendations have followed.

A 2007 Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation pointed out the need to criminalise statements which incite hate, discrimination or violence against individuals or groups for religious or other reasons. The Assembly requested the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) to prepare a report on national law in Europe on blasphemy, insults of a religious nature or incitement to religious hatred.

The Venice Commission concluded that in a democracy religious groups must, as any other groups, tolerate criticisms in public statements and debates related to their activities, teachings and beliefs, as long as the criticisms do not constitute deliberate and gratuitous insults or hate speech, an incitement to disturb public order, violence or discrimination towards people who adhere to specific religions.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has also recommended criminalising expressions which can be considered racist speech, notably when it intentionally and publicly incites to violence, to hatred, or discrimination on grounds of race, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin.

Other Council of Europe texts refer to this issue, such as the 2003 Protocol to the Convention on Cyber Crime, related to the prosecution of acts of racist and xenophobic nature through computer systems.

Protocol to the Convention on Cyber Crime, related to the prosecution of acts of racist and xenophobic nature through computer systems.

Chapter I – Common provisions

Article 1

Purpose
The purpose of this Protocol is to supplement, as between the Parties to the Protocol, the provisions of the Convention on Cybercrime, opened for signature in Budapest on 23 November 2001 (hereinafter referred to as “the Convention”), as regards the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.

Article 2

Definition

1.    For the purposes of this Protocol:
“racist and xenophobic material” means any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors.

2.    The terms and expressions used in this Protocol shall be interpreted in the same manner as they are interpreted under the Convention.

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