Cyprus Mail

‘Gaps in law’ meant bishop was let off hate speech charge

Bishop Neophytos

Gaps in the law restrict the ability of the police to go after those who express hatred and racism if there is no clear and proven intention to incite violence, Akel MP Skevi Koukouma said on Monday.

She was speaking after a meeting of the House human rights committee on the decision by the attorney-general’s office that Bishop of Morphou’s anti-gay statements were not an offence.

The issue was put up for discussion at the committee after the AG’s office decision was announced. This was the first time a complaint for homophobic or transphobic hate speech had been investigated in the four years since adoption of legislation outlawing hate speech was passed.

Members of the LGBTQ community, experts and activists who were at the meeting said they  disagreed with the decision, arguing that the bishop’s comments constituted racism, hate speech and intent to incite hatred by a person with a position of power.

The probe against Morphou Bishop Neophytos was launched after he made derogatory comments about gays earlier this year.

The bishop said during a public talk that gay men give off a nasty smell and that homosexuality was transferred to a foetus when a pregnant woman has anal sex and enjoys it.

A representative from the office of the ombudswoman, told MPs that they had found those statements to be “racist speech” and that the legal service ought to legally substantiate the case.

According to the representative of the police, the case was thoroughly investigated, but it was easily judged “because there was no sign of intent to the statements and there appeared to be no incitement to hatred.”

In addition, there was no sufficient testimony that could be accepted by the attorney-general.

“At the levels of justice there is a third freedom in the balance, which is the religious freedom that makes the issue more complicated,” the police member said.

But the president’s advisor on acceptance and diversity, Costas Gavriedlides, expressed his conviction that the bishop’s remarks were indeed hate speech and there was intent of incitement of hatred by a person in power.

“That video has been online and is still there, and the intention is there,” Gavrielides said.

He did acknowledge that the police were somewhat awkward in the way they had to handle the case, as it was the first time a complaint had been examined since the legislation had been passed.

The president of Accept-LGBT Cyprus, Monica Panayi, said that although there was no proof linking them with the bishop’s statements, there were many incidents of violence against LGBTQ persons this year, and authorities did not address them properly.

She also said legislation should be made to prevent conversion therapies.

Koukouma said that the Akel parliamentary group had filed for discussion on the application of hate speech against LGBTI persons in 2016.

It emerged during Monday’s discussion, she said, that all agencies find that the law restricts the ability of the police to go after those who express hatred and racism if there is no clear and proven intention to incite violence.

This gap, she said, could have been addressed earlier if there had been the necessary consensus to discuss the issue, “but also if all the parties had demonstrated a similar sensitivity to the archbishop’s racist and homophobic statements.”

“The immediate intervention of independent institutions against such references that act as a raw material for the fermentation of hatred, intolerance, and isolation of those who live and act differently could contribute to a change of culture,” Koukouma said.

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