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    “The time has come for Parliament to vote on the bill to criminalize reprehensible behavior on the internet”

    It is unthinkable that some actions and behaviors which, when done in public places, are punishable by law, while if they are done over the internet, they are not equally criminal offences, said the Attorney General, George Savvidis, on Monday, noting that the time has come for the Parliament to vote the bill to criminalize reprehensible behavior on the internet.

    The Attorney General gave a lecture to final year students of the Department of Law of the University of Cyprus on the topic “The right to freedom of speech and expression”, at the invitation of the Department of Law of the University of Cyprus.

    Mr. Savvidis, in the context of the lecture, mentioned that pending in the House of Representatives is the bill “On the Criminal Code Amendment no. 2 Online Messaging/Posting Act of 2020' to criminalize reprehensible conduct, such as posting a written or illustrated message containing grossly offensive or obscene or obscene or threatening content. At the same time, he continued, it is envisaged to criminalize the posting of a message with false content that is intended to cause annoyance or harassment or concern.

    He said that the possibility of using the internet also brings multiple negative effects related to the rapid distribution of falsehoods. news, disinformation, manipulation of the public, as well as interference in the private life of the individual. He noted that there is interesting case law in relation to internet access and freedom of expression.

    Asked by the KYPE to give more details about the bill in question, Mr. Savvidis said that it is a bill that has been pending for a long time in the Parliament which tries to regulate some behaviors which if done on the internet should be criminal offences.

    He explained that although it is a bill which is quite discussed, the Parliament has not proceeded to pass it. “I believe that the time has come for the Parliament to take that brave step, to vote for it because I think it is unthinkable that certain actions and behaviors which, when done in public places, are criminally punishable, while if they are done via the internet – which has greater impact – not to be equally criminal offences”, he noted.

    Speaking to the students, Mr. Savvidis said that the right to freedom of speech and expression is a basic right in a democratic society, noting that “it is the cornerstone of democracy” as Professor Kostas Paraskeva mentions in his book “Cypriot constitutional law : fundamental rights and freedoms”.

    “The right to freedom of expression is very important and this is because it focuses on the individual's personality and how this develops in his participation in the public debate and in shaping public opinion . At the same time, it is the tool for criticizing public authority”, he noted.

    The Attorney General stated that in Cyprus, the right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the Constitution and for this is referred to as a constitutional right. He also added that this right is also protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Mr. Savvidis analyzed a series of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

    He noted that in this context, a tool of analysis and examples was the previous ECtHR jurisprudence, which was used to demonstrate both the positive obligation of the state to provide effective protection against the right to freedom of expression and the change that, like Mr. Savvidis he said, has been observed in recent years in ECtHR jurisprudence, “which seems to surround with the protection of Article 10 ECHR and the right of access to information, even if it does not correspond to reality”.

    Speaking about the positive obligation of the state, Mr. Savvidis noted that the state not only cannot intervene, but also has a positive obligation to offer effective protection mechanisms for writers and journalists, so as to create a favorable environment for public debate , offering interested parties the opportunity to express their opinions and ideas without fear, even if these opinions oppose the positions of official authorities or public opinion.

    During the lecture, the Attorney General also developed the right to freedom of expression and speech in relation to the internet, the protection of the press and journalists and the importance that the legislator attaches to the limitation of statements related to the handling of judicial cases and of the individual's constitutional right to a fair trial. Restrictions, which, as he explained, are intended, on the one hand, to avoid any prejudice or pressure from public opinion towards the interested parties and the court and, on the other hand, to shield the public's trust in the institutions of justice administration.

    In this context he also referred to the publication of classified confidential documents pointing out that it is not up to the recipient to decide whether the author reasonably or unreasonably decided to classify any letter, noting that all those who come into contact with confidential information should be very careful in using them.

    At the same time, there was particular interest from the audience in those exceptions where speech and expression are not protected, as well as in the reasons given by the ECtHR in a series of its decisions for which it considered that there is intolerant speech or hate speech, or that touch on issues concerning, among others, the protection of public safety, the security of the state and the prevention of the disclosure of classified information, and the reputation and reputation of third parties.

    Furthermore, in his statements to KYPE, Mr. Savvidis said that ” I had the pleasure of attending for the second time and giving a lecture to the law students of the University of Cyprus as part of their curriculum. Today we talked about the issue of freedom of expression and the restrictions that can be set”.

    “I think it was a very interesting discussion which it seemed that the students followed with interest, they asked very interesting questions at the end and were I am glad that I was with them and I was able to help in the exchange of views on such a serious issue, such as the right to freedom of expression,” he said.

    Source: cyprustimes.com

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