Right-wing politician Okamura’s YouTube channel canceled, Facebook ponders similar move

SPD vows to go to court over censorship, but the EU has rules on hate speech

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 27.07.2020 12:23 (updated on 27.07.2020)

Tomio Okamura, the leader of the right-wing political movement Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), lost his original video channel on YouTube on July 24 as he depicted the violence by migrants in Europe, Okamura said on in a post on his still-active Facebook account, adding that the move came without warning.

Okamura has established a new YouTube channel that had four videos as of the morning of July 27. None of the videos so far depicted violence. The new page has 1,580 followers.

The YouTube move follows more than a week after Facebook warned Okamura as well as SPD Deputy Chairman Radim Fiala that their Facebook accounts risk being deleted, as does the official SPD page, for violations of Facebook’s rules on community standards.

YouTube’s rules ban the posting of videos with violent or cruel images that seek to shock or create sensations. The rules also ban the spread of illegal, misleading, discriminatory or fraudulent information.

“Tough censorship is coming. YouTube canceled my channel without any notice to me. The reason for the cancellation seems to be the fact that I have repeatedly published videos depicting the violent and criminal acts of migrants in Western Europe,” Okamura said on Facebook. “We are witnessing harsh censorship and emerging totalitarianism,” he added.

He also complained that the cancellation of his page interfered with open political competition. “I consider the fact that YouTube canceled my original channel, where I published uncensored information, a gross attack on freedom of speech, an attack on fundamental civil liberties provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and a violation of free competition of political parties given by the Czech constitutional order,” he said.

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youtube
Links to Okamurua’s old videos now lead to an error screen / via YouTube

Okamura claimed YouTube had censored him since he disagreed with illegal migration, Islamisation and EU policies, and since he warned of what he perceived as dangers that these topics were bringing to the Czech Republic.

On July 14, the SPD announced that Facebook had threatened to cancel the pages of SPD, Okamura and Fiala. The pages often carry xenophobic and anti-Islamic posts, and depictions of violence.

The main SPD page of Facebook has 31,000 followers, while Okamura has 260,000 followers and Fiala has 31,000 followers,

The Facebook pages still remain active, and the content has not changed. As a precautionary measure, though, SPD has launched a new website with multiple posts per day of information similar to what they have been posting on Facebook.

SPD has vowed to oppose any blocking of its sites. Okamura made similar arguments against the possible Facebook bans that he made regarding the YouTube ban, citing the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and the need for open political speech. He also urged people to follow SPD on other social media and internet sites.

“If Facebook cancels the site, the SPD movement will take the necessary legal steps necessary to defend our constitutional rights in Czech courts, including the Constitutional Court, as well as in international courts,” Okamura said previously.

SPD spokeswoman Barbora Zeťová said the group received warnings on its Facebook pages: “The site is in danger of cancelation of its publication. Your site may be unpublished due to continued violations of our Community policies,” the warnings reportedly said.

Okamura said the warnings did not indicate what community guidelines have been violated, or list any of the offending posts. “This came like a bolt from the blue without any warning,” Okamura said.

tomio okamura
Tomio Okamura / via Wikimedia commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Kamil Kopecký, head of the E-safety server at Palacký University in Olomouc, told daily Mladá fronta Dnes that Facebook’s rules state that hate speech is not tolerated in the network’s environment. “Specifically, they do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion, and in some cases can also support violence committed in the real world,” he said.

Okamura denies that the Facebook pages violate standards, though a brief glance shows posts about crimes committed by members of minority group used to paint the entire group in a negative light, posts critical of EU policies intended to support minorities, and posts supporting other far-right politicians in Europe.

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“There is nothing illegal or hateful about it. We defend the rights of every decent citizen, regardless of their skin color, religion or sexual orientation,” Okamura said.

He adds that the SPD movement does not violate laws or the Constitution. “The rules of Facebook, which we have not even broken, cannot be above our laws and our Constitution,” he said.

If he goes to court, he may have a difficult battle. In the European Union, hate speech is not protected under the general concept of freedom of speech. In 2016 the European Commission launched a Code of Conduct together with four major IT companies —Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube — in an effort to respond to the proliferation of racist and xenophobic hate speech online.

“Illegal hate speech is defined in EU law under the Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law as the public incitement to violence or hatred directed to groups or individuals on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, color, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin,” The EU said in a June 2020 online Q&A.

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The EU points out that removing hate speech is not censorship. “The Code aims to tackle online hate speech that is already illegal. The same rules apply both online and offline. In the Code, both the IT companies and the European Commission also stress the need to defend the right to freedom of expression. The Code cannot be used to make IT companies take down content that does not count as illegal hate speech, or any type of speech that is protected by the right to freedom of expression set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” the EU stated.

SPD currently has 20 seats in the Czech lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, putting it in fourth place after ANO, the Civic Democrats (ODS) and the Pirates.