Young Romani activists, part of a volunteer-led project to record and litigate against online hate speech in the Czech Republic, have today released a publication exposing the state of online hate against Roma in the country as well as a policy guide detailing what the government must do if it wants to effectively challenge it.
The publications are the culmination of an innovative, volunteer-led process which has successfully demonstrated how Roma can effectively take charge of their rights by recording hate speech and filing criminal complaints against those who seek to incite racial hatred with impunity. The project was organised by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Romea.cz, and the Forum for Human Rights as part of the ERRC’s Challenging Digital Antigypsyism initiative.
The report Challenging Digital Antigypsyism in the Czech Republic describes how Romani volunteers reported and recorded 245 separate incidents of online racist language against Roma of varying degrees of severeness between the spring of 2022 and the summer of 2023. Many of the comments circulated anti-Romani stereotypes, while a significant number focussed on refugees and Romani people (including attacks on Romani Ukrainian refugees). Much of the most disturbing hate speech targeted Roma in the context of the Second World War and included comments calling for the annihilation of Roma, Holocaust denial, and expressing sympathy with Nazi ideology.
The project resulted in criminal complaints being drafted against ten individuals for posting hate speech online. So far, one perpetrator has been put on probation for eight months and ordered to remove the content by the public prosecutor; another of the criminal complaints was classed as a misdemeanour offense and the perpetrator fined; one was dismissed; while the rest are awaiting further action from the police.
The second publication, Prosecuting Digital Antigypsyism: A Policy Guide for the Czech Republic, contains recommendations for the Ministry of Interior, public prosecutors, and law enforcement to better address online hate speech against Roma. It advocates for a proactive approach to deal with online hate speech by state actors, including standardising police procedures when evaluating reported hate speech, plugging certain legislative gaps, more effective coordination across state agencies, the need for continuous education, the creation of preventive programs, involvement of the communities, and the engagement of other relevant stakeholders. The document highlights the discrepancy between the volume of hate speech discovered online by Romani activists, and the relatively small number of legal actions taken against perpetrators.
While the primary aim of the volunteers’ work was to identify instances of online hate speech that met the threshold for legal action, the Romani volunteers also unearthed a disturbing degree of widely accepted hate speech and discriminatory content available online. Often this content did not directly incite violence but sharing discriminatory language and opinions creates a toxic, racist online environment with the potential for that hate to spill into the real world. The ERRC has been exposing the link between online hate speech and real-world violence for many years and has seen repeatedly how a lack of consequences emboldens racist users to share hate speech online and, ultimately, offline. By documenting the various types of hate speech and the ways in which users take advantage of the apparent anonymity of online spaces, as well as by addressing it through all available channels, projects such as this put Roma at the centre of challenging online hate speech and the threat it poses to democratic societies.
“I think that this project is really important because it shows how dangerous the internet can be. I’m really surprised that there is so much hate speech against Romani people, especially now when Roma refugees from Ukraine are coming to the Czech Republic…It needs to be reported more and it needs to be controlled more from those social sites. I think there needs to be more projects like this one” said Veronika Banová, a Romani volunteer and law student at the University of West Bohemia.
This project was supported by the EVZ Foundation.
This press release is also available in Czech.
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