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What is a hate crime? The Finnish law does not define the concept of a hate crime specifically.
In general terms, hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice or hostility towards the victim’s ethnic or national origin. The crime may also be targeted at members of the majority population.
The motives of a hate crime include:
- skin colour
- national or ethnic origin
- religion or beliefs
- sexual orientation
- other motive comparable to the ones mentioned above.
They are grounds for imposing a more severe punishment as stated in the Criminal Code, and they are taken into account in the definition of a hate crime.
The victim does not need to be a part of a group; it is enough that the perpetrator assumes the victim to be a member of the group. Victims may be chosen because they have a close relationship with people who are members of a group targeted by hate or prejudice. They may also have some other connection to the group. For example, people working at a reception centre may be selected as a victim because of their job.
Motive as the deciding factor
In principle, any act that is considered a crime in the Finnish legislation may be a hate crime. The motive of the act determines whether it is a hate crime or not. The most common crimes with a racist motive include assault, menace and defamation, for example.
The crime of ethnic agitation in itself can already be considered to be motivated by hate. The court can also take hate as the motive into account as grounds for imposing a more severe punishment on the usual penal scale.
Due to their nature, hate crimes are considered to be especially harmful and dangerous. In hate crimes, victims are not chosen randomly as the target; instead, they are chosen because of one of their personal characteristics, usually a visible one.
Hate crimes can affect the whole group
A single hate crime can also be seen as a signal crime. In that case, the minority that the victim of the crime represents may feel like they have become victims collectively. It means that the crime is seen as a threat to the group that the victim represents.
For example, close and extended family members can feel personally unsafe, if a relative of theirs has become a victim of a hate crime. Such a collective reaction may affect the attitude of the whole minority group negatively. Hate crimes can undermine the trust between the minority group and the members of the majority. An increased feeling of insecurity may weaken the trust of the group towards the society and its structures.
The term ‘hate speech’ used in common language and public discussion has become open to interpretation as a concept. People may easily consider all inappropriate speech or writing as hate speech.
The Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe defines hate speech as follows:
The term “hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.
Taking the freedom of speech into account
When considering hate speech, the freedom of speech must be taken into account. This means everyone’s right to express, publicise and receive opinions, information and other messages without being prevented by anyone.
The freedom of speech does not only protect information or opinions that people are happy to hear or that they consider harmless or unimportant; it also protects things people think are shocking, disturbing or unpleasant, for example. Both the Constitution of Finland and the European Convention on Human Rights guarantee the freedom of speech.
Limits of the freedom of speech
Nevertheless, the Finnish legislation and different kinds of international treaties limit the use of the freedom of speech so that it does not allow violations of the basic rights or human dignity of other people.
The Criminal Code of Finland limits the freedom of speech by stating that acts like defamation and ethnic agitation are punishable offences. Therefore, if these crimes are motivated by hate, they can also be hate crimes. Combating and investigating crimes like these is the duty of the police.
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Hate crimes have a widespread impact
Hate crimes do not only affect the victim of the crime. Hate crimes also have a more extensive effect on the society, the relationships between different population groups as well as social cohesion. Crimes motivated by hate or racism can also be extremist crimes. On the other hand, being exposed to hate crimes may also lead to social exclusion and extremist behaviour.
That is why hate crimes must be considered a serious form of crime that must be addressed effectively. The police cannot combat hate crime as a phenomenon alone; it requires more extensive social investment.