Top-Selling German Newspaper Says New Online Hate Speech Law Must Be Scrapped

Michelle Martin, Reuters, January 4, 2018

A new law meant to curtail hate speech on social media in Germany is stifling free speech and making martyrs out of anti-immigrant politicians whose posts are deleted, the top-selling Bild newspaper said on Thursday.

The law which took effect on Jan. 1 can impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) on sites that fail to remove hate speech promptly. Twitter has deleted anti-Muslim and anti-migrant posts by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and blocked a satirical account that parodied Islamophobia.

“Please spare us the thought police!” read a headline in Wednesday’s Bild above an article that called the law a “sin” against freedom of opinion enshrined in Germany’s constitution.

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Intended to prevent radical groups from gaining influence, it was having precisely the opposite effect, [Bild Editor-in-Chief Julian Reichelt] said.

“The law against online hate speech failed on its very first day. It should be abolished immediately,” Reichelt wrote, adding that the law was turning AfD politicians into “opinion martyrs”.

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Justice Minister Heiko Maas defended the law, telling Bild that freedom of opinion did not mean carte blanche to spread criminal content on the internet.

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Germany has some of the world’s toughest laws on defamation, incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, with prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities.

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