In what appears to be a blatant attack on free speech, Ireland is considering passing the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 which would, among other things, criminalize the possession of material the government deems hateful. In addition to criminalizing the possession of odious material, the law would also “provide for an offence of condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.” The Bill is also intended to fight “forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia.”
One of the main concerns of the Bill is the complete lack of precise definitions of the specific offenses it refers to. Without clear definitions, the law can only be ambiguously enforced and easily misinterpreted.
In language that seems to have come more from the dystopian novel, 1984, than from lawmakers, the Bill would allow for the prosecution of anyone “preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics.” While the intent of the law is to prevent hate crimes, not allowing people to possess certain materials more closely resembles the censorship of ideas, free thought, and literature.
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While criminalizing hate speech may be done by governments with the best intentions, it opens a doorway for far more serious censorship issues to creep in. Ireland’s new criminal justice law would allow a judge to order the search of someone’s home based only on the sworn statement of a police officer that they have “reasonable” grounds to suspect illegal material may be in the person’s home. Without clear-cut definitions of the crimes the law is meant to prosecute and search warrants that are allowed to be issued on suspicions and sworn statements, without evidence, there is no way to adequately enforce Ireland’s proposed Bill. The passage of the new law could be the beginning of the end for free speech in Ireland as well as free thought.
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