Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis on Tuesday defended a draft bill that will outlaw the expression of opinions that encourage racial hatred and xenophobia, denying that it fettered freedom of speech.

Kastanidis called a press conference to provide explanations about the draft bill, which has been posted for a period of public debate ending on March 3, saying that it had been misinterpreted by sections of the media.

According to the minister, critics of the draft bill had not bothered to read it and he clarified that it did not restrict anyone's right to express their opinion, even if that opinion were openly racist, nor did it introduce measures that had no precedent in Greek law.

He pointed out that it merely augmented existing laws dating as far back as 1966 and 1979 that concern the abolition of all forms of racial discrimination. The minister stressed that the target of the new measures was to combat dangerous expressions of racism and xenophobia, those that encouraged hatred and violence that endangered public order, not the inalienable right to freedom of speech.

Kastanidis clarified that no one could be punished for simply expressing an opinion but only those that in public speech or writing incited others to "violent acts, hatred and antagonism" based on racial, religious or cultural criteria.

The minister said the draft bill would protect all groups defining themselves on the basis of their race or descent and this protection was also now extended to groups previously not included in the law, such as those defining themselves on the basis of their religion or their sexual orientation.

The draft bill also protects inanimate objects used by groups or persons as symbols, such as religious objects, national symbols and places of worship.

Kastanidis clarified that the bill would ensure that such crimes of racism and xenophobia could be investigated and prosecuted even if there were no complaint or report by the victims, who were often vulnerable individuals that hesitated to initiate legal proceedings.