Application Number: 15615/07
European Court of Human Rights[Judgment delivered in French]
The Chairman of Belgium’s National Front, claimed a violation of his rights under Article 10 in relation to his conviction of incitement to racism. This case dealt with anti-immigrant statements and recommendations made by Féret in leaflets distributed during an electoral campaign. Statements made, included, amongst others ‘stop the Islamization of Belgium’ and ‘save our people from the risk posed by Islam, the conqueror.’ He also spoke of the ‘problem of refugee centres’ and one, in particular, which results in ‘nuisance for the inhabitants such as damage to property, noise, waste, sometimes violent altercations.’ Here, the Court emphasised that ‘political speech that stirred hatred based on religious, ethnic or cultural prejudices was a threat to social peace and political stability in democratic States.’ The Court found no violation of Article 10.
Theme(s): Ethnic and Religious Hatred
Date: 10 December 2009
Description of applicant(s): Chairman of the political party ‘Front National’ and member of the House of Representatives at the material time.
Brief description of facts: Over a period of 2 years, the applicant’s party distributed leaflets and posters in connection with election campaigns. These included statements such as ‘Stop the Islamization of Belgium’ and ‘save our people from the risk posed by Islam, the conqueror.’ The applicant was charged with inciting discrimination and violence and sentenced to 250 hours of community service related to the integration of immigrants and a 10 month suspended prison sentence. It declared him ineligible for office for ten years.
(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Muslims, Immigrants
The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The Court emphasized that political speech that stirred hatred based on religious, ethnic or cultural prejudices was a threat to social peace and political stability in democratic States. Political parties and their representatives must enjoy broad freedom of expression to be able to attract voters. However, where racist or xenophobic comments were concerned, the electoral context helped to kindle hatred and intolerance and the impact of this type of speech grew worse and more harmful. The Court found no violation of Article 10.
Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:
Para 73: The Court considered that incitement to hatred did not necessarily require the calling of a specific act of violence or another criminal act. Attacks on persons committed through insults, ridicule or defamation aimed at specific population groups or incitement to discrimination, as in this case, sufficed for the authorities to give priority to fighting hate speech when confronted by the irresponsible use of freedom of expression which undermined people’s dignity, or even their safety.
Para 76: The Court attached particular importance to the medium used and the context in which the contested remarks were broadcasted in the present case, and therefore to their potential impact on public order and the cohesion of the social group. However, these were leaflets of a political party distributed in the context of an electoral campaign, a form of expression aimed at reaching the electorate in the broad sense, therefore the entire population. If, in an electoral context, political parties must benefit from a broad freedom of expression in order to try to convince their voters, in the event of racist or xenophobic speech, such a context contributes to stir up hatred and intolerance because, by force of circumstances, theepositions of the candidates for the election tend to become more fixed and the slogans or stereotypical formulas come to take precedence over the reasonable arguments. The impact of racist and xenophobic discourse then becomes greater and more damaging.
ECHR Article: Article 10
Decision: No violation
Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? Yes:
Para. 64: Tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings is the foundation of a democratic and pluralist society. As a result, in principle it may be deemed necessary, in democratic societies, to sanction, even prevent, all forms of expression which propagate, encourage, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance (including religious intolerance), ensuring that the “formalities”, “conditions”, “restrictions” or “sanctions” imposed are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (with regard to hate speech and the promotion of violence see Sürek v Turkey [etc]
Note! The translation from French to English is our own.