Application no. 48657/16
European Court of Human Rights

The applicant had made statements on several online forums, describing military action to be taken against Serb villages and neighbourhoods. The European Court of Human Rights agreed with the national courts which imposed a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, finding that these statements were damaging to inter-ethnic relationships in the area.


Theme(s): Ethnic Hatred/Internet

Date: 16 January 2018

Description of applicant(s): Lawyer

Brief description of facts: The applicant is a lawyer. He was found guilty of inciting national, racial and religious hatred, discord or intolerance and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, suspended for a period of three years. The national court found that, between 3 January and 24 February 2010, the applicant, using a pseudonym, had made a number of posts on the publicly accessible Internet forum of a website called Bosnahistorija on which he made statements as to the course of action to be undertaken by Bosniac citizens of his district in the event of a war, and the secession of the Republika Srpska (one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The applicant made, inter alia, the following statements:

I will post photos soon; now I am busy working … there will be this stinking Christmas soon and it is a public holiday in Brčko so I will [have time] to take photos … if we organise ourselves they stand no chance of taking over Brčko. … Ilićka settlement – which has around 3,500 to 5,000 Serbs – is problematic … Ilićka and Grčica should be struck at first, as these are two key Serb settlements. It is easy to attack Grčica because there are some Bosniacs there, whereas Ilićka is problematic as it has no physical contact with any Bosniac settlement. In any military scenario we should first strike at Bukvik, Gajeve and Cerik and get rid of the danger behind our backs, the same as we did in 1992 … once we have dealt with those Serb villages we will have a free corridor towards Gradačac and Srebrenik. Then, in my opinion, we should attack Grčica and Srpska Varoš … the city centre should then be slowly cleansed because there are many buildings and there is a risk of heavy losses …

… Serbs who came from different shitholes live there; there is [only a very small native] population … Ilićka is a settlement [which consists mostly] of radical-thinking Serbs who would be the first to concoct [a fight] with Bosniacs from Brčko and which, in the event of any scenarios [involving secession] from [Republika Srpska] should be attacked and neutralised first … “

The applicant argued that his intention had not been to incite national, racial and religious hatred, discord or intolerance but to express his own opinion on a matter of public concern.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Serbs

The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The Court found that the applicant had written a number of posts on public forums on which he described military action to be taken against Serb villages and neighbourhoods in his region. The Court found that, even if these statements were of a hypothetical nature, they were too sensitive for the inter-ethnic relationships of the area to be acceptable speech.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:

Para. 39:  The Court notes that the subject of the applicant’s posts, even if written in a hypothetical form, had touched upon the very sensitive matter of the ethnic relations in post-conflict Bosnian society. Furthermore, the domestic courts examined the case with care and in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10 and gave relevant and sufficient reasons for the applicant’s conviction.

ECHR Article: Article 10

Decision: Manifestly ill-founded

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No