Application Number 52273/07
European Court of Human Rights
The case concerned the applicant’s conviction and sentence to five years in jail for newsletter articles he had written on the armed conflict in Chechnya. The national courts held that these articles had justified terrorism and violence and incited hatred. The ECtHR found that there was a violation of Article 10 since there was no overall pressing social need to interfere with his rights, despite some of his statements amounting to calls for violence and justification of terrorism. The Court took into account the severity of the penalty imposed.
Theme(s): Violence, terrorism
Date: 8 October 2018
Description of applicant(s): Journalist
Brief description of facts: The applicant was the editor, publisher and distributor of a monthly newsletter disseminated between 2000 and 2004, which dealt mainly with the war in Chechnya. The authorities started investigating him in 2003 on suspicion that he was expressing views which amounted to appeals to carry out extremist activities and to incitement to racial, national, and social hatred. He was sentenced to five years in prison and given a three-year ban on practicing journalism. He served the sentence in full and was released.
Excerpts from articles in the newsletter include:
Let dozens of Chechen snipers take up their positions in the hills and the city ruins and hundreds and thousands of aggressors perish from their holy bullets! No mercy! Death to the Russian invaders!”
“… Putin’s cheap propaganda can jabber as long as it wishes that Maskhadov is a bandit and that he is responsible for the ‘Nord-Ost’ [theatre siege] and the recent explosions in Tushino. Anyone who shows at least some interest in contemporary Chechnya knows that it is Maskhadov who is the legitimate President of Chechnya. And until he is re-elected in accordance with the constitution of the CRI, and not the Russian constitution, any other ‘presidents of Chechnya’ are out of the question. Lawful elections of the president of the CRI under the constitution of the CRI of 1992 will only be possible when the CRI army, headed by Commander-in-Chief Maskhadov, defeats occupying Russia’s illegal armed groups of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Security Service, and chucks them out of the territory of independent Ichkeriya …”
(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Russian State
The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The Court did take into account the context of the ongoing conflict in the Chechen Republic. It held that some of his statements had justified terrorism and incited hatred and enmity but other statements did not go beyond accepted speech and were simply a discussion on the situation in Chechnya. The Court held that national authorities must be careful when deciphering on whether or not speech constitutes hate speech. The Court found the punishment to be disproportionate to the aim pursued and, therefore, held there to be a violation of Article 10.
Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:
Para. 96: The Court has always been mindful of the difficulties linked to the prevention of public disorder and terrorism and has acknowledged, in particular, that in situations of conflict and tension particular caution is called for on the part of the national authorities when consideration is being given to the publication of opinions which advocate recourse to violence against the State lest the media become a vehicle for the dissemination of hate speech and the promotion of violence. Yet, a fair balance should be struck between the individual’s fundamental right to freedom of expression and a democratic society’s legitimate right to protect itself against the activities of terrorist organisations.
ECHR Article: Article 10
Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? Yes, see paragraph 96 above.