TALLINN - The Tallinn City Court has set a legal precedent by penalizing a 22-year-old for leaving viciously anti-Semitic comments on the Delfi.ee Web portal.
Olev Hannula was prosecuted for propagating intolerance and social discord, and the court ordered him to pay a fine of 3,000 kroons (192 euros).
In November 2003, Hannula, commenting on an article about Europe's fearful attitude toward Jews, wrote two words: "Juudid ahju!" 's "Jews to the fire!"
The following month officials tracked him down, confiscating the computer he used.
Hannula, who has a criminal record, defended himself by saying that he merely repeated common expressions and colloquialisms and did not impel anybody to act. He added that he was only opposed to Israel's policy toward Palestine, and that officials invaded his privacy by tracing his posts and comments on the Internet.
During the trial, evidence was submitted that, in the past, the defendant had slandered blacks as well as Jews.
According to the Estonian Language Institute's conclusion, the phrase the young man used to express his feelings "provoked hatred and violence based on ethnic affiliation."
Previously, hate-based crimes were punished with either 30 penalty units 's 60 kroons per unit (3.8 euros) 's or several days' detention. But due to changes in law, they are now considered misdemeanors and fall under police jurisdiction.
Hannula's case, however, could become a precedent in Estonian jurisprudence since it would segregate the concept of freedom of speech and sowing race-based animosity.
Mart Pukk, Delfi.ee's editor in chief, said he believed Hannula was guilty. As he explained to The Baltic Times, it is impossible to trace and censor every comment posted by Internet users.
"Each day we publish more than a hundred new articles, and we have been keeping them on our Web site since 2000. Everyone can comment on every topic. I can hardly imagine the number of censors it takes to control this," he said.
Cilja Laud, president of the Estonian Jewish Community, said she was absolutely uninterested in Hannula's verdict. She was positive, however, that the "boy" would be forced to pay a fine.
The case underscores the level of racial prejudice in Estonian society, especially in light of an Aug. 4 editorial in the Eesti Paevaleht daily by music critic Priit Kuusk, who suggested that Russian women smoke more in order to decrease their numbers.
"And looking at Russian woman who smoke, I think, well, go ahead and smoke! Kill yourself and you children 's there are too many of you anyway!" he wrote.
Several prominent Russian politicians immediately called for Kuusk to be brought up on misdemeanor charges.
Urmet Kook, the paper's deputy editor, offered an official apology the next day and promised that the paper would be more rigorous in moderating contributors' material.