Akel leader Andros Kyprianou requested attorney-general Costas Clerides and House speaker Demetris Syllouris to look into allegations of hate speech – criminalised by parliament in 2011 – against the party and take any action they deem appropriate, it was announced on Monday.
In two separate letters, Kyprianou referred to instances of hate speech by “politicians and others in the media and social networking sites”, and even “in the House of Representatives itself”.
He was referring to opposition parties’ arguments against a proposal tabled by Disy and backed by Akel at Friday’s plenary session, some of which implied that those in favour were betraying their country.
The proposal was aimed at effectively reversing an earlier House decision that introduced a brief reference of the 1950 Enosis (union with Greece) referendum in state secondary schools.
“In order to harmonise Cyprus with the European Union’s framework to combat racism and xenophobia, the House of Representatives voted in October 2011 to criminalise hate speech,” Kyprianou wrote to Clerides.
“It saddens me to report that this did not stop politicians and others from engaging in hate speech in the media and social networking sites, as well as, unfortunately, in the House of Representatives itself.”
As an indicative example, Kyprianou described an exchange on Facebook between far-right Elam MP Linos Papayiannis and another man, who had declared that “what is needed is an Eoka B, which shot them like dogs in the coffee-shops”.
Eoka B was a paramilitary organisation of extremist Greek Cypriots who sought to impose through violence, bombing and murdering dissenters, union with Greece in the early 1970s, years after the bicommunal Republic of Cyprus had been declared an independent state.
Papayiannis had reacted to the post by telling the author “You are a giant”, prompting speculation that the MP had endorsed the comment.
He then came out saying he hadn’t – as evidenced, he argued, by the fact that he hadn’t pressed the ‘Like’ button under the post – but merely sought to congratulate the man, a paraplegic, for his earlier accomplishment of climbing Mount Olympus on his wheelchair, while still refraining from endorsing or rejecting the post’s content.
“Such references are myriad, especially in social networking sites,” Kyprianou said.
“I am pleased that you and the police reacted immediately to the verbal abuse against me. However, I would urge you to seek the strict enforcement of the law, so that such incidents are addressed in practice.”
Exiting parliament after Friday’s plenum, Kyprianou was subjected to verbal abuse by an angry mob of Elam supporters, prompting police to spring into action to investigate whether the law had been violated.
In the letter to Syllouris, Kyprianou said Friday’s plenum, which he had presided over, have “irrevocably exposed our country, domestically and abroad”.
Reiterating the “you are a giant” exchange between Papayiannis and the man who advocated the revival of Eoka B’, Kyprianou also referred to another incident involving the Elam MP, this one inside the plenum.
From the floor, Papayiannis had explicitly called those who planned to vote for the proposal “traitors”, prompting the departure of Disy MPs in protest and sparking indignant cries of offence from Akel deputies.
In the commotion, Papayiannis almost got into a physical altercation with Akel deputies, one of whom he claimed had called him a “hoodlum”.
“The second incident relates to the threat issued by an Elam MP to an Akel deputy inside the House, with the phrase ‘I’ll take care of you outside’,” Kyprianou said.
“As House Speaker, I believe it is your duty to act as a guardian of the law and the proper operation of the body, as well as the isolation and eradication of such incidents and behaviours in parliament, by taking all appropriate measures.”
The letters prompted similar responses from both Elam and the Solidarity movement.
“Elam will send a letter to the attorney-general and the House speaker to report on the hate and fanaticism speech expressed by Akel, as well as the abuse spoken by its MPs,” the nationalist party said in a statement.
“We will not accept the facts being altered, and we will not accept being targeted, but above all we will not accept being silenced.”
Solidarity claimed Akel was being racist with “all Cypriots who wish to continue to be Greeks”, and leader Eleni Theocharous pledged to send a similar letter to the AG “Tuesday or Wednesday”.
“Mr Kyprianou can’t simply include with the fascists all the Greeks who want to maintain their Greek identity and be proud of their Greek culture,” Theocharous said.
“It is one thing to seek a just solution to the Cyprus problem, and quite another to attempt to undermine the pride of every Greek citizens, whose ancestors, fathers or grandfathers, staked their lives for this land’s freedom.”