Zeg nee aan de cancelcultuur en kom op voor de vrijheid van meningsuiting

Politie legt de NatCon-conferentie in Brussel stil

Zo ziet cancelcultuur eruit in de praktijk

Paul Coleman at NatCon in Brussels

Ik ben op dit moment in Brussel, waar ik mag spreken op de National Conservatism Conference (beter gekend als NatCon).

Maar dat spreken dreigde – net als de rest van de conferentie – helemaal in het water te vallen. De burgemeester van de Brusselse gemeente waar de NatCon doorging had immers aan de politie gevraagd om het evenement stil te leggen.

Nu moet u weten dat de organisatoren van de NatCon eigenlijk al aan plan C zaten : een eerste locatie had onder druk van de autoriteiten namelijk beslist om de boeking van de conferentiezaal te annuleren, en met een tweede locatie gebeurde net hetzelfde. Gisteren, op de derde locatie, werd het evenement dan op bevel van de burgemeester verstoord door de politie, terwijl zelfs de verhuurder van de zaal niet begreep waarom.

De conferentie was al bezig toen de politie aankwam en de toegang barricadeerde. Niemand mocht er nog in – zelfs niet de sprekers.

Zo gaat cancelcultuur dus in de praktijk

Volgens de burgemeester moest de NatCon-conferentie worden stilgelegd omdat “de visie niet alleen ethisch conservatief is (b.v. vijandigheid jegens het legaliseren van abortus, relaties tussen mensen van hetzelfde geslacht, enz.), maar ook focust op de verdediging van ‘nationale soevereiniteit’, wat onder andere een ‘eurosceptische houding’ impliceert…”

Op het politiebevel stond dan weer te lezen dat de conferentie moest worden verboden “om te voorkomen dat de openbare orde en vrede zouden worden geschaad”.

De burgemeester die het verbod uitsprak vond het niet kunnen dat de NatCon werd bijgewoond door personen uit “rechts-conservatieve en religieuze kringen”. Daar ben ik er dan wellicht één van : mijn bijdrage ging immers over de crisis van het geloof en het gezin in Europa.

Gelukkig zaten onze juristen al in de conferentiezaal, en konden zij de organisatoren bijstaan met waardevol juridisch advies.

Dankzij uw steun kon ADF International ter plaatse onmiddellijk het nodige doen om het politiebevel van de burgemeester aan te vechten voor de Raad van State, de hoogste administratieve rechtbank van België. Het stilleggen van de conferentie is immers een inbreuk op de vrijheid van meningsuiting én van vergadering, twee basisvrijheden die de hoeksteen vormen van elke vrije samenleving.

De Raad van State behandelde de zaak in een spoedzitting en oordeelde uiteindelijk, bij arrest uitgesproken midden in de nacht, dat de conferentie alsnog mocht doorgaan.

Een welkome uitspraak ter bescherming van de vrijheid van meningsuiting, en een klinkklare overwinning voor twee van de belangrijkste mensenrechten.

We bevinden ons evenwel op een keerpunt. Want dit alles had niet mogen gebeuren. Recht en gezond verstand hebben vandaag gezegevierd, maar de evenementen van gisteren maken duidelijk hoe hard de democratie in Europa onder druk staat. Zij laten zien hoe de censuur in Europa in alle stilte om zich heen grijpt.

De politiek in Europa hoort te leven van de open dialoog tussen mensen die een verschillende mening zijn toegedaan. En toch hield een burgemeester in de hoofdstad van de Europese Unie op eigen houtje een vreedzame gedachtewisseling tegen.

Censuur door de overheid is een praktijk die ons terugbrengt naar de donkerste dagen vaan de Europese geschiedenis. Het is toch onvoorstelbaar dat een verkozen politicus de politie zomaar kan bevelen de toegang tot een conferentie te verbieden, zogezegd “om de democratie te beschermen” ?

De verhalen van onze cliënten in Europa en elders in de wereld zijn veelzeggend : telkens weer gebruiken machthebbers de politie om “storende” stemmen het zwijgen op te leggen. En als daar een proces op volgt, dan wordt dat op zich al een straf.

De vrijheid van meningsuiting staat op de helling, censuurpraktijken verspreiden zich razendsnel. Mogen wij rekenen op uw financiële steun voor onze strijd voor vrije meningsuiting en tegen de cancelcultuur ? Me uw steun trekken onze teams ten strijde tegen censuur, waar en wanneer dat nodig is.

The Irish “hate speech” bill encourages censorship rather than combatting hate

What's the purpose of "hate speech" laws? Text with Irish flag.

Inform yourself about the Irish “hate speech” bill, and you’ll find the censorial truth.

Hate speech laws in Ireland increase censorship

Censorship. It’s an elusive term animated throughout history with growing relevance today. “Hate speech” laws loom large over Western political and social conversations. Blasphemy laws criminalize faith-based speech and belief in countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. By now, almost everyone is aware of censorship.

Some may think of George Orwell’s 1984; others, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Censorship takes many forms – like book burning and imposing “newspeak” – but Ireland now leads the dystopian cause with its hotly debated “hate speech” bill.

And so, as the state-driven tide of censorship sweeps the world, Europe stands at the forefront of the ongoing conversation. Why? Because almost every Western nation has introduced “hate speech” laws enabling authorities to enforce penalties for certain speech they deem unpopular or unorthodox.

These laws are introduced under the guise of combatting “a rise of hate”, or offensive speech that can make people feel insulted or uncomfortable. But criminalizing speech is not the answer. Rather, allowing more robust speech that facilitates open debate instead. That’s why we stand against so-called “hate speech” laws like the proposed one in Ireland.

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The Irish “hate speech” bill seeks to criminalize the possession of material “likely” to incite hatred. This includes memes and photos saved on devices, with up to five years of jail time. Yes, photos on personal devices. Yet, there is no clear definition of what “hate” entails.

Therefore, this is a dangerous trajectory. ADF International highlights the dangers of the “hate speech” bill while briefing Irish lawmakers on how to uphold freedom of speech.

What are “hate speech” laws?

So-called “hate speech” laws are ambiguously worded laws that criminalize certain speech beyond what is acceptable in a democratic society.

Despite having no basis in international law, all European Union Member States have vague and subjective “hate speech” laws. The United Nations, EU, and Council of Europe concur that “hate speech” lacks a universally agreed-upon definition. Nonetheless, the European Commission seeks to make “hate speech” an EU-wide crime on the same list as trafficking and terrorism.

These laws, with the wrong police and prosecutor, can be weaponized against any person and any form of speech. Thus, explicitly violating the state’s obligation to protect free speech.

Do “hate speech” laws deter hate?

The short answer is no. But because “hate speech” laws rely on vague terms such as ‘insult,’ ‘belittle,’ and ‘offend,’ they are inconsistently interpreted and arbitrarily enforced. Oftentimes, the threat of serious criminal penalties accompanies charges.

Rather than combat hate, the criminalization of speech based on subjective criteria creates a culture of fear and censorship.

An offence is considered hateful in reference to the hearer or reader, making it subjective with little to no regard for the content of the speech itself. They are incompatible with free societies. 

How the proposed Irish "hate speech" law is different than others

The Irish “hate speech” bill would move the needle further. If passed, we could expect commonplace prosecutions like Päivi Räsänen’s for posting a Bible verse on “X” in 2019 about her biblical worldview on marriage and sexuality. In fact, Ireland’s censorial law would go even further than Finland’s.

We’re ramping up public advocacy to expose the unprecedented dangers of what the Irish government is doing. All have the right to live and speak the truth without fear of censorship or retaliation. That’s why we’re asking Irish lawmakers to uphold their obligation to protect free speech under international human rights law.

Consequently, the Irish “hate speech” bill has two major facets that other laws like Finland’s do not include. For example:
  • It leaves the issue of gender open-ended by including a list of “protected characteristics” allowing for unlimited “gender identities” like ‘non-binary’ and ‘two-spirit’. These self-identities would receive protection supported by criminal law.

  • It allows authorities to criminalize private possession of memes or any content “likely” to incite violence or hatred “…against a person or group of persons on account of their protected characteristics”.

This means “misgendering” someone could land you a criminal prosecution, fine or worse. If the Irish “hate speech” bill becomes law, Irish police would have the power to search phones, camera rolls, and emails for prosecutable content.

It’s paramount that we all spread awareness about the dangers of this bill.

Why Ireland is pushing this now

The Irish government claims that the law is necessary following rising incidents of violence in the country, which many tie to uncontrolled migration. But peace and security on the streets do not require “hate speech” laws suppressing peaceful speech.

With key terms deliberately undefined, how are we to know what kind of speech could be subject to prosecution? “Hate speech” laws are Western blasphemy laws by another name; both are state driven.

The thought of Irish police raiding homes and phones to seize banned books and memes invokes thoughts of Orwell and the darker moments of the last century. 

Our right to freedom of expression is protected by numerous international human rights treaties. The European Court of Human Rights even affirmed that the right to freedom of expression protects not just popular ideas but also those that shock, offend, and disturb.   

Yet, some argue that unpopular speech should be censored by the state. But where is the logical stopping point?

Have we learned nothing from Finland? 

“Hate speech” laws are detrimental to a society seeking to protect freedom of speech or thought. In Finland, we’ve supported Päivi’s defence for almost five years with two unanimous acquittals. She was charged with three counts of “hate speech” because of her “X” post, a pamphlet she authored for her church, and comments she made during a radio programme.

In January 2024, the state prosecutor appealed her case to the Finnish Supreme Court. On 19 April, the high court agreed to hear the appeal, so Päivi will face her third criminal trial in three years. However, the legal process is Päivi’s punishment because the state has unlimited funds to prosecute offenders of their “hate speech” laws. Prosecutions cost taxpayer funds, while reputations sometimes become irreparably harmed.

If Päivi’s now famous “hate speech” case took place in Ireland, she could be prosecuted for simply possessing the pamphlet she wrote for her church congregation on the biblical definition of marriage, even if it was never published online.

Ireland should be a place where important conversations about issues that matter – even about controversial and sensitive topics thrive. When these conversations are shut down, we all lose out.

Conclusion: Ireland must reject its new “hate speech” bill

In summary, “hate speech” laws leave the door wide open to state censorship and oppression. And yet, the Irish government has been moving forward with a new bill to criminalize “hate speech” since 2022.

This could be one of the most far-reaching clampdowns on free speech by a modern democracy. It implicates memes, jokes, and books. Instead of protecting free speech and public safety, this law is poised to set a draconian precedent of intolerance against those who express beliefs outside the state-approved orthodoxy. 

Unpopular speech needs the most protection, and in a free society, free speech is required. Individuals should be able to express their beliefs without fear or oppression. The Irish “hate speech” bill is a far cry from the liberal democratic ideals the Irish government claims to profess.

Europe’s Top Human Rights Court condemns Russia for punishing a Christian pastor for hosting a prayer in his home

Don Ossewaarde
  • Don Ossewaarde was arrested, convicted, and fined over a prayer gathering at his home in Russia.
  • European Court of Human Rights reaffirms that “missionary work or evangelism…is protected under Article 9” of the European Convention on Human Rights.

STRASBOURG (15 March 2023) – Russia has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for violating the right to religious freedom and discriminating against a Christian pastor. In a judgment issued on 7 March 2023, the ECHR held that a 2016 punishment levied by Russian authorities for organizing a peaceful prayer gathering in the pastor’s house in Oryol, Russia was a clear breach of human rights.

In 2016, Donald Ossewaarde, an evangelical Christian pastor, was arrested, taken to the police station, sued, and convicted after he invited locals to his house for worship, singing, and bible study. He was fined 40,000 roubles (appr. 650 euros at the time). After the sentence was upheld by Russian courts, Ossewaarde appealed to the ECHR. ADF International supported Ossewaarde in bringing the case to the Court.

“Nobody should be discriminated against or persecuted for sharing their faith, regardless of their religion or denomination. The European Court of Human Rights has yet again affirmed that evangelization and mission work is a key, and robustly protected, element of the freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights,” stated Dr. Felix Böllmann, Director of Advocacy Europe at ADF International, a human rights group that defends religious freedom worldwide.  

Convicted for inviting people to prayer gatherings

Since 2005, Ossewarde, originally from Michigan, had been living with his wife in Oryol, less than 200 km from the Ukrainian border. They regularly organized prayer gatherings and communal Bible reading. On 14 August 2016, three police officers entered their home. The door was open to give anyone access who wanted to join the Sunday worship. After the service, the officers questioned the attendees. Then they ordered Ossewaarde to come to the police station for fingerprinting.

The police took Ossewaarde directly from the police station to the Zhelezhnodorozhnyy District Court in Oryol where he was convicted for carrying out missionary work.

Anti-terrorism law used to criminalize sharing one’s faith

In July 2016, Russia introduced a new anti-terrorism law, which criminalized “missionary work” by individuals in many instances. This served as the legal basis for the conviction of Ossewaarde. The law furthermore provides for higher penalties if the accused person is not a Russian citizen.

“I was unjustly punished for exercising my basic human right to speak about my faith and pray with others. My wife and I invited people into our home to sing hymns, read the Bible, and pray together. Millions of people around the world are free to do this without interference, but I was treated like a criminal and convicted under a Russian law directed at terrorists,” Don Ossewaarde recalls.

The right to religious freedom protects missionary work

In its judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the penalty for missionary work constitutes a violation of the right to religious freedom. The Court confirmed that the “freedom to manifest one’s religion includes … the right to express one’s religious views”. Furthermore, missionary work or evangelism “is protected under Article 9 alongside with other acts of worship”. 

According to the Court, sharing one’s faith is a “vital dimension of a religion” and as such worthy of highest legal protection. The Court also dismissed the distinct penalties for foreign citizens, in contrast to those for Russian citizens, as “discriminatory”. As such they manifest a violation of Article 14—the right not to be discriminated against.

Russia should serve as a warning

“I am encouraged that the Court has clearly affirmed the individual right of religious freedom, and the key importance of protecting group worship and evangelism efforts. Nobody should be criminalized for praying, or for inviting others to partake in peaceful religious gatherings. Criminalization of religion leads to tyranny. We hope and pray that the international community will pay attention to the erosion of religious freedom in Russia, and that this Court decision will prompt other countries to affirm and robustly protect the religious freedom of their people,” Don Ossewarde said.

“We enthusiastically welcome the Court’s judgment, as it makes clear that religious freedom extends to people of all faiths and beliefs who are fully entitled to speak about their convictions and invite others to join in as well. We strongly call on Russia to respect the international human rights framework in accordance with this ruling,” concluded Böllmann

 

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“Thoroughly illegitimate”: forced conversion and marriage of women and girls called out at UN event

Giorgio sitting down with a group at UN

Coinciding with the expert meeting of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, the high-level event, hosted by Poland, Hungary, and ADF International, brought together the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief and other actors to discuss challenges and solutions to the problem of forced conversions.

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