Monday, October 07, 2019

European Court Says Conviction For Holocaust Denial Does Not Violate Free Speech Rights

In Pastors v. Germany, (ECHR, Oct. 3, 2019), the European Court of Human Rights in a chamber judgment rejected claims by the chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany that his criminal conviction for a speech he gave in the Land Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania violated his free expression rights under Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Pastors was convicted of defamation and violating the memory of the dead for language in his speech denying the existence of the Holocaust.  The court said in part:
In the present case, the applicant intentionally stated untruths in order to defame the Jews and the persecution that they had suffered during the Second World War. Reiterating that it has always been sensitive to the historical context of the High Contracting Party concerned when reviewing whether there exists a pressing social need for interference with rights under the Convention and that, in the light of their historical role and experience, States that have experienced the Nazi horrors may be regarded as having a special moral responsibility to distance themselves from the mass atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis ..., the Court therefore considers that the applicant’s impugned statements affected the dignity of the Jews to the point that they justified a criminal-law response. Even though the applicant’s sentence of eight months’ imprisonment, suspended on probation, was not insignificant, the Court considers that the domestic authorities adduced relevant and sufficient reasons and did not overstep their margin of appreciation. The interference was therefore proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and was thus “necessary in a democratic society”.
... In these circumstances the Court finds that there is no appearance of a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. Accordingly the complaint must be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.
The court also issued a press release summarizing the decision.