Thursday, January 11, 2018

European Court Vindicates Critic of Anti-Muslim Political Remarks

In Case of GRA Stiftung gegen Rassismus und Antisemitismus v. Switzerland,  (ECHR, Jan. 9, 2018), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that the free speech rights of a civil rights organization were infringed when Swiss courts sanctioned it for a web posting calling remarks of a youth leader of a right wing party "verbal racism." The remarks were made in the context of a referendum on banning the building of minarets. A Swiss appellate court found that the web posting infringed the party leader's personality rights.  It required the organization to remove its web posting and replace it by the court's opinion. It also was required to pay legal and court costs. The ECHR held in part:
When assessing the impugned statements in the present case, it is first of all important to bear in mind the general background of the ongoing political debate in which both statements were made.
... Both B.K.’s speech and the applicant organisation’s article concerned a topic of intense public debate in Switzerland at the material time, which was the popular initiative against the construction of minarets, which was widely reported on in national and international media. The initiative, calling for a ban on the construction of minarets, was ultimately accepted by a referendum on 29 November 2009 and such a ban was included in the Swiss Constitution....
The Court reiterates that a distinction has to be made between private individuals and persons acting in a public context, as political or public figures. Accordingly, whilst a private individual unknown to the public may claim particular protection of his or her right to private life, the same is not true of public figures.... 
... B.K. had willingly exposed himself to public scrutiny by stating his political views and therefore had to show a higher degree of tolerance towards potential criticism of his statements by persons or organisations which did not share his views.
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the Grand Chamber.  the Court issued a press release summarizing the decision.  Law & Religion UK has more on the case.