Important judgment in hate speech case by the European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights
09/02/2012

The European Court of Human Rights says that criminal conviction for distributing leaflets offensive to homosexuals was not contrary to freedom of expression

Today the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) delivered its unanimous judgement in a case of Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden and said that the criminal conviction of individuals who distributed leaflets offensive to homosexuals as a group under the Swedish law does not constitute a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights and their activities are not protected by the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention.

ILGA-Europe welcomes this important judgment which for the first time deals with the hate speech towards homosexual people. In this case, the offensive leaflets distributed by the applicants called homosexuality a “deviant sexual proclivity” and which has “a morally destructive effect on the substance of society”. The leaflets also included allegations that homosexuality was responsible for the developments of HIV and AIDS, and that “the homosexual lobby” tried to play down paedophilia.

The Court confirmed that these statements had constituted serious and prejudicial allegations, even in the absence of a direct call to hateful acts. The Court stressed that discrimination based on sexual orientation was as serious as discrimination based on “race, origin or colour”.

Martin K.I. Christensen, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, said:

“This is a truly important and landmark judgement. For decades lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people have been subjected to an avalanche of offensive, unfounded, discriminatory and defamatory rhetoric. For far too long those making such statement were claiming their right to freedom of expression and opinion. The Court today clearly recognised that such statements are offensive to the entire community, and stated that individuals and organisations expressing, publishing and disseminating such remarks cannot justify themselves with the right of expression guaranteed by the Convention.

This is a serious signal to a number of organisations and individuals across Europe who continue making defamatory and offensive statements about LGBTI people, that the expression of hatred is unacceptable, and that the Convention’s protection of freedom of expression cannot be used as a pretext not to prevent and punish it by law.”

Media release by the European Court of Human Rights regarding the judgement in the case of Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden (application no. 1813/07)

Judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden (application no. 1813/07)

Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

Hate speech factsheet by the European Court of Human Rights

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