Germany is once again setting the tone in Europe with a series of raids carried out by the European police agency Europol against people suspected of engaging in so-called “hate speech” online.
Although the coordinated police operation took place in seven countries, the initiative to launch the raids came from German prosecutors.
A total of 83 apartments have been searched in that country alone, with 93 suspects questioned and people’s phones and computers seized.
The suspects are said to have expressed “racist” and “xenophobic” sentiments on the internet, while one is accused of “insulting a politician.” According to Reuters, the unnamed politician is a woman who has been insulted online.
Judging by the reports, the raids are something of an annual ritual for the Germans; however, this time four other EU states: Italy, France, Greece, and the Czech Republic, and two who are not members of the EU, the UK and Norway, also joined in what appears to be a sweeping operation.
The whole thing took place under the auspices of Europol, Europe’s counterpart to the global law enforcement agency Interpol.
A Europol spokesman said that Tuesday’s raids were designed to target persons promoting racism and xenophobia.
It’s no accident that Germany is leading the way in criminalizing perpetrators of alleged online hate speech.
The country is acting according to a law that regulates this space, and is one of the more controversial and draconian in Europe, regularly drawing criticism from domestic and international groups for its potential to violate free expression and people’s rights.
The law, known as NetzDG was introduced in 2018 and in the meantime amended to become even more restrictive. What those looking at it benevolently call a balancing act between preventing hate speech and allowing free speech, rests on rules ordering social media platforms to delete what’s termed as obviously criminal within 24 hours, or pay heavy fines.
Even if reports suggest that many other countries are paying close attention to the German model, possibly with the idea of replicating it in some form, the legislation is said to have failed to stop hate speech in Germany, and its proliferation is now linked with “a wave of racist attacks in the last year,” writes Reuters.