European Court of Human Rights[Judgment delivered in French]
The first applicant was the founder and director of the applicant association. In 2011, he posted a short note on the applicant association’s website concerning about the Russian Orthodox Church. He was placed on the list of terrorist and extremists, prosecuted for hate speech and the association which he founded was dissolved. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 10 in respect of the first applicant and a violation of Article 11 (read in light of Article 10) in respect of both applicants.
Theme(s): Religious Hatred
Date: 7 December 2021
Description of applicant(s): Founder of association, association
Brief description of facts: The first applicant was the founder and director of the applicant association. In 2011, he posted a short commentary on the applicant association’s website concerning the Russian Orthodox Church. It read:
“Anti-church attitudes are on the rise in the Karelian capital. Nothing surprising about that. Thinking members of society have realised that the church is also a party in power. The Russian Orthodox Church, just like the [ruling] United Russia party, is fooling people with fairy-tales about our good life while raking in money. Total corruption, oligarchy, and the absolute power of security services are the reasons for a revival of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Churches in Karelia are being built with public funds while there is no money for basic needs; ROC gets day nurseries for use at a time when childcare facilities are desperately lacking. Bearded men in fancy robes – modern-day ideology instructors – have filled the television screens. They give their opinion on everything, from canalisation to modernisation. All of this makes normal people puke; unable to do anything about the clerical stranglehold, they express their attitude to the ROC’s provincial officials by tagging walls in places where the Orthodox scum hangs out. ‘Pay and pray’, ‘Christ is dead’ [is written] on the walls of the Orthodox Centre in Petrozavodsk … which once was a day nursery.””
The first applicant was charged with hate speech and the second applicant was dissolved on the basis that the first applicant, as a founding member, had been suspected of an extremist offence. The first applicant was placed on the list of terrorists and extremists. Also, the Town Court approved the first applicant’s placement into a psychiatric facility to carry out a ‘granular analysis of his personality traits.’ The first applicant had left Russia and avoided this order.
(Alleged) target(s) of speech: The Russian Orthodox Church
The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech:
The Court found that the short commentary was not capable of inciting violence, hatred or intolerance. It relied on Ibrahim Ibragimov and Others, to underline that merely because a remark may be perceived as offensive or insulting by particular individuals or groups of individuals does not mean that it constitutes “hate speech”. Whilst such sentiments are understandable, they alone cannot set the limits of freedom of expression. It found a violation of Article 10 and Article 11 (read in light of Article 10).
Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:
Para.43: The Court’s assessment of the necessity of interference in cases concerning allegedly extremist speech takes into account a number of factors: the existence of a tense political or social background; the presence of calls for – or a justification of – violence, hatred or intolerance, the manner in which the statements were made, and their potential to lead to harmful consequences. It is normally not sufficient that the interference was imposed because its subject-matter fell within a particular category or was caught by a legal rule formulated in general terms; what is rather required is that it was necessary in the specific circumstances ( Perinçek).
Para.44: The first applicant’s note concerned a supposedly growing anti‑clerical sentiment in the Republic of Karelia. In setting out his views on what might have adversely affected attitudes towards the Russian Orthodox Church, he referred to the Church’s close links with the political party in power, the continued construction of religious buildings at public expense, the allocation of former kindergartens for use by the church, and the pervasive presence of priests on public television. He cited anti-clerical graffiti on the walls of a former kindergarten converted into a religious centre as evidence of negative attitudes towards the Church. Admittedly, the criticism was strongly worded and some people might have taken offence at the language. The Court however reiterates that merely because a remark may be perceived as offensive or insulting by particular individuals or groups of individuals does not mean that it constitutes “hate speech”. Whilst such sentiments are understandable, they alone cannot set the limits of freedom of expression ( Ibragim Ibragimov and Others). The key issue in the present case is thus whether the applicant’s comments, when read as a whole and in their context, could be seen as promoting violence, hatred or intolerance (Perinçek).
ECHR Article: Article 10 (in respect of the first applicant).
Note: A violation of Article 11 (read in light of Article 10) was also found in respect of both applicants.
Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? Yes