Memes which deliberately cause offence or insult a person may become illegal under a House legal affairs committee proposal, which seeks to change the law and criminalise “offensive or harmful” messages, be they texts or emails.
The content of such messages to face legal sanctions are “whatever causes harassment (in the wider sense) to an individual, whatever offends, whatever intimidates, when it happens with intent – is something that will be covered by this legislation,” head of the committee and Disy MP Nikos Tornaritis said on Wednesday.
Speaking after the meeting, Tornaritis said that the changes sought by the committee would alter the criminal code so that sending abusive, threatening, or obscene messages via social media, emails, texts and so on will be punishable.
He said that most other EU nations have imposed such measures.
“Insulting a person by uploading messages, pictures, or any other forms on social media will be punishable,” Tornaritis said, without providing further clarifications.
While the focus of the legislation may be on efforts to counter death threats, sexual harassment, stalking and other such crimes, there are concerns that an overly broad definition of terms such as offence caused to individuals or insults may restrict freedom of expression.
Following previous committee meetings, most recently in September, Tornaritis said that a balance must be found between defending freedom of expression and human rights, but also protecting the honour and reputation of other people.
Akel MP Aristos Damianou highlighted the need to modernise legislation to include social media.
“Before us we had a government initiative to amend the criminal code to introduce provisions criminalising behaviour that offends people’s honour, reputation, and dignity,” he said. “No one disagrees in principle.”
He warned however, that the criterion for approving or rejecting a bill would be whether it maintained the balance between protecting the honour, reputation and dignity, but also freedom of expression.