Crime of hoax spreading would interfere with freedom of speech, experts opined

Expert noted that current legislation is sufficient.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Unsplash)

Disinformation and hoaxes made the pandemic worse in Slovakia, observers agree, yet many doubt the recent proposal to amend the Penal Code and make the spread of false information a crime.

Justice Minister Mária Kolíková (SaS) proposed in her draft law, presented in early December as part of a larger Penal Code amendment, that people spreading false information may face a prison sentence.

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“Are we really going to prosecute people for being stupid? That is a dangerous thing, in my opinion, because freedom of speech is a very sensitive [issue],” Za Ľudí MP Juraj Šeliga reacted on Markíza television.

He was not the only one to criticise Kolíková, his former party colleague, after she came up with the idea of criminalising the spread of hoaxes. A number of lawyers doubt the possible effectiveness of the proposed law, pointing to the delicate line between freedom of speech and punishing false claims. They also worry that the law as it was proposed could be easily misused.

What the law should entail

Creating and spreading false information that may “cause serious harm to at least part of the population”, threaten lives, or influence people's decisions on serious issues, may be punished with one to five years in prison, according to the proposal.

If the perpetrator has a personal motive, like property benefit, the punishment is three to eight years in prison. If the crime is committed while a national emergency applies in the country, the punishment may be as high as four to 10 years in prison.

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