A parliamentary committee will on Thursday convene to examine a complaint against independent MP Andreas Themistocleous, alleged to have made ‘abusive remarks’ against Greens MP Alexandra Attalidou, in a case that may test the limits of permissible speech in politics.

The controversy revolves around a Facebook post made last week by Themistocleous, replying to Attalidou’s earlier post where she welcomed the passage of legislation criminalising ‘conversion therapies’ on LGBT persons.

Themistocleous wrote sarcastically: “It looks like the three blacks never showed up after all.”

The independent MP had voted against the legislation.

Attalidou immediately moved to report the matter to the House ethics committee, which will convene for this purpose on Thursday morning. Both she and Themistocleous will be summoned to give their accounts.

The parliamentary committee can impose any of a number of sanctions on an MP – a verbal or written reprimand, impeachment, or forcing a statement of apology from the floor of the House plenum.

At the same time, the police confirmed they are investigating Themistocleous for possible ‘hate speech’ – his reference to “blacks.” But in order for police to press charges against him, his parliamentary immunity would need to be lifted first – a decision that would rest with the attorney-general.

Lawmakers from several parties have come out in defence of Attalidou and against Themistocleous, who has become something of a bête noire for his antics during plenary sessions.

Once it became known that the ethics committee would take up Attalidou’s complaint, Themistocleous took to social media again to explain what happened.

He said that when he referred to “the three blacks” he was in fact citing Attalidou herself. His Facebook post was merely sarcastic, throwing Attalidou’s own words back at her.

That is factually correct. Back in December, Attalidou went on television, claiming she was on the receiving end of threats and abusive comments on social media. This abuse, she said, came from supporters of Grivas and Elam, but also concerning her pro-LGBT stance.

Among the alleged threats she received, Attalidou said at the time, was that someone would send “three blacks to take care of you.”

According to Themistocleous, he brought up the “three blacks” remark to show Attalidou that nothing in fact happened to her after passage of the bill prohibiting conversion therapies for LGBT individuals. He was mocking her claims that she was in danger.

Themistocleous also recalled Attalidou’s explanation for not going to the police in December. She told a local television channel that she did not trust authorities to be impartial.

Meanwhile Attalidou – whose spat with Themistocleous has raged for months – wants to take matters further still. She has called for even stiffer penalties on MPs who behave unethically or in disorderly or disruptive way in parliament. Attalidou would like the regulation amended to allow for the suspension of payment of an MP’s salary, or barring an offending MP from participating in committees – in line with European Parliament practices.