Hojs responds to criticism over proposed fines for verbal attacks on state officials

Ljubljana – As the government’s proposal to introduce fines for indecent behaviour towards state officials and their families was met with criticism, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs said in response that the most exposed state officials enjoyed special protection in all democratic countries.

Apart from being criticised by opposition parties, the proposal has also been scrutinised and strongly rejected by the NGO Legal Network for Protection of Democracy.

The NGO argues that the proposal is not in line with the legal practice of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), has a chilling effect and is setting up a privileged category of citizens.

According to the NGO, the ECHR has made a point several times that by agreeing to assume top political posts, the senior elected representatives of the state consciously subject themselves to potential strong criticism by journalists or the wider public so they must show a higher degree of tolerance towards criticism.

This was echoed by lawyer and specialist in personal data protection and access to public information Nataša Pirc Musar, who said on Twitter that “introducing criminalization of speech is thus unusual to say the least and perhaps pointed to the ignorance of authorities and incomprehension of existing regulation.”

Under existing legislation, a fine of EUR 417 to EUR 835 is envisaged for different types of indecent behaviour towards state officials performing their official duties. Other types of indecent behaviour carries a fine of EUR 104 to EUR 417, Pirc noted.

Hojs responded by saying that the proposal, which introduces a fine of EUR 500-1,000 for verbal attacks on state officials or their family members, had been drawn up because police seemed to be powerless in the event of verbal attacks.

After several MPs were harassed by anti-maskers in front of the parliament building in July, police warned that it could not punish such actions, the minister said, noting that in such cases it was up to the individual to file charges.

Moreover, the proposed fines also send a signal to the public that such behaviour towards top state officials is unacceptable, Hojs said.

Commenting on the reaction from the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), and the Left, the minister said he was surprised that “even those who have themselves been targets of such attacks do not support this proposal more strongly, as something like this can happen to them too under a new government”.

Hojs also responded to criticism that the proposal is reminiscent of Article 133 about speech crimes in the former Yugoslavia, saying that that article referred to hate speech targetting the Communist system and not top state officials.

He said that if “we all want to contribute to a different culture in this society” it was urgent to pass the proposed changes to the public order act.

The changes had been endorsed by the government and are yet to be discussed in parliament.