Application Number 45581/15
European Court of Human Rights[Judgment delivered in French]
The applicant was, at the material time, parliamentary candidate for Front National. He was criminally convicted for inciting hatred or violence against a group of people/an individual due to their religion. His conviction resulted from his failure to promptly delete comments written by users under of one of his Facebook posts.
Theme(s): Religious Hatred
Date: 2 September 2021
Description of applicant(s): Parliamentary Candidate for Front National
Brief description of facts: At the material time, the applicant was a parliamentary candidate for Front National. He wrote a Facebook post (public) commenting on the website of one of his political opponents (F.P). Under that post, users made comments including that F.P had “transformed Nîmes into Algiers, there is not a street without a kebab shop and mosque; drug dealers and prostitutes reign supreme.” Another user L.R., added three other comments directed at Muslims such as allegations that Muslims sell their drugs without police intervention and that they throw rocks at cars belonging to “whites.” The French Court found fined Sanchez for these comments, finding that although he was not the author, he was the ‘principal offender’ as he left the comments up for 6 weeks before removing them.
(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Muslims
The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: In finding no violation of Article 10, the ECtHR noted the role of politicians in tackling hate speech, the delay in the applicant’s removal of the comments and his responsibility vis-à-vis these comments. It endorsed the in Féret v Belgium test which highlights that incitement to hatred does not necessarily require the calling of a specifical act of violence, that attacks can include, for example, insults or ridicule.
Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:
Para.89: The Court recalls that the comments were part of the local political debate, in particular that of the electoral campaign for the upcoming legislative elections, and that they were published on the wall of the Facebook account of the applicant, an elected politician and candidate for these elections. While it is true that the Court attaches the utmost importance to freedom of expression in the context of political debate and considers that political discourse cannot be restricted without compelling reasons (see paragraph 84 above), and that in the pre-election period, opinions and information of all kinds must be able to circulate freely (Orlovskaya Iskra v. Russia, no 42911/08, § 110, 21 February 2017, and Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt, cited above, § 56), it does however refer to its finding as to the clearly unlawful nature of the disputed comments (paragraphs 81-88). Thus, apart from the fact that comments made in the context of political debate must not exceed certain limits, in particular with regard to respect for the reputation and rights of others (Le Pen v. France (dec.), No. 45416/16 , § 34, 28 February 2017), since “it is of the utmost importance to combat racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations” (Jersild v. Denmark, 23 September 1994, §§ 30-31, series A no. 298), the applicant’s position as an elected representative cannot be regarded as a circumstance mitigating his responsibility (Féret, cited above, § 75). In this regard, the Court reiterates that it is of crucial importance that politicians, in their public speeches, avoid disseminating statements likely to fuel intolerance (Erbakan v. Turkey, no. 59405/00, 6 July 2006, § 64) and, because they too are subject to the duties and responsibilities provided for in Article 10 § 2 of the Convention, they should also pay particular attention to the defence of democracy and its principles, in particular in an electoral context characterized, as in the present case, by local tensions, their ultimate objective being the seizure of power itself (Féret, cited above, § 75).
ECHR Article: Article 10
Decision: No Violation
Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? Yes