Linguistic minorities faced continued discrimination, including in employment. A human rights organization continued to be harassed by the government. Parliament adopted provisions which could limit freedom of expression and assembly.
Discrimination – linguistic minorities
Members of the Russian-speaking minority faced discrimination. Non-Estonian speakers, mainly from the Russian-speaking minority, were denied employment due to official language requirements for various professions in the private sector and almost all professions in the public sector. Most did not have access to affordable language training that would enable them to qualify for employment.
In January, the Equal Treatment Act entered into force, prohibiting discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, race and colour in areas such as employment, education, and social and health care. However, the measure has limited effect with regard to public sector employment, because amendments to the Public Service Act established that unequal treatment of state and municipal officials based on official language requirements should not be considered as discrimination.
Human rights defenders
In its report published in April, the Security Police Board continued to attempt to discredit the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights (LICHR), an NGO promoting and defending the rights of linguistic minorities. The report stated that Aleksei Semjonov, the LICHR director, would be a pro-Russia candidate at the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, that he was a member of the pro-minority Constitutional Party, and that he carried out activities financed and directed by the Russian authorities.
However, Aleksei Semjonov had stated publicly on 20 March that he would not take part in the European Parliamentary elections. Official information available on the internet showed that he was not a Constitutional Party member and that he did not register as an independent or party candidate for the European elections.
Freedom of expression and assembly
On 15 October, Parliament approved the so-called “Bronze Night” package (Bill N.416UE), a set of amendments to the Penal Code, the Public Service Act and the Aliens’ Act. The amendments expand the definition of “an offence committed during mass disorder”, which might now include acts of non-violent disobedience during peaceful demonstrations. They also provide for non-nationals, including long-term residents and those born in Estonia, to have their residence permit revoked for these offences and for other “intentional crimes against the state”. This could include non-violent acts such as the symbolic destruction of national flags or those of foreign states or international organizations.