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Our View: Being offensive, vulgar and insensitive is not against the law

MP Alexandra Attalides

Universal outrage greeted the post by maverick independent deputy Andreas Themistocleous on Facebook mocking Greens deputy Alexandra Attalidou. There is no denying that his post was offensive, deeply racist and in very bad taste, but the reaction of politicians seems excessive, because it completely ignored the context in which it was made.

His comment – “it seems the three blacks never showed up” – was in response to one of the threats Attalidou had said had been made against her because of her support for LGBT rights and for being critical about Grivas. One of the threats was that someone would “send three blacks to take care of you.” This was a grossly racist comment although the identity of the source was unknown.

Themistocleous’ comment was posted after the bill for the criminalisation of conversion therapies was approved last Thursday to mock Attalidou’ reports that she had received threats. It was the type of taunt that one would expect from a schoolboy rather than from a grown-up member of the House of Representatives, but Themistocleous has often behaved like a child seeking attention by causing offence.

A sexist and bigot who was elected on the Elam ticket in the last elections and had also been a Disy deputy in the past, Themistocleous has regularly sought controversy, having become something of a spokesman for political incorrectness. Towards the end of last year he expressed his homophobia during a House plenum, saying we were “living a porn-fuelled and homosexual storm,” while slamming a bill for mandatory sex education in schools, which he described as “disgusting, deplorable, and sad.”

While nobody took offence at these remarks, largely ignoring the deputy, this time everyone turned against him and on Thursday he will appear before the House committee that deals with ethics. It will not be the first time he has appeared before this committee, nor was it the first time he has attacked a woman deputy. He has never hidden his sexism and now he is exposing his racist tendency as well, but has he broken any law?

Being offensive, vulgar and insensitive are not criminal offences, even though there has been talk about taking legal action against him. Apart from being difficult to achieve, there is the danger that any such action could turn Themistocleous into some kind of free speech hero, a deputy being penalised for directing a sarcastic comment at a fellow deputy.

In democracies there will always be politicians who resort to insulting, mocking and belittling opponents and no law can stop them. Parties and society can express their disapproval of what Themistocleous has said but he cannot be punished for being offensive or for lowering the level of public debate.

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