Monday, February 12, 2018

European Court Upholds Conviction For Inciting Hatred

In Smajić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, (ECHR, Jan. 16, 2018), a 3-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim by a a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina that his free expression rights were infringed when he was convicted of inciting national, racial and religious hatred, discord or intolerance.  Applicant had posted online action that should be taken by Bosniac citizens of the Brčko District in the event of war and secession of  Republika Srpska (one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina).  According to the court:
The applicant had used expressions which were highly insulting to members of an ethnic group, such as “this stinking Christmas”, “get rid of the danger behind our backs”, “the city centre should then be slowly cleansed” and “Serbs who came from different shitholes live there”.
Rejecting applicant's argument that his conviction violated Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court said in part:
31. The Court notes that the applicant’s conviction amounted to an “interference” with his right to freedom of expression. An interference contravenes Article 10 of the Convention unless it is “prescribed by law”, pursues one or more of the legitimate aims referred to in paragraph 2 of Article 10, and is “necessary in a democratic society” for achieving such an aim or aims.
32. The interference in the present case was prescribed by law; namely, it was based on Article 160 § 1 of the 2003 BD Criminal Code... Furthermore, the Court is satisfied that it pursued at least one of the legitimate aims referred to in Article 10 § 2 – namely the protection of the reputation and rights of others.
33. The Court reiterates that freedom of expression is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to Article 10 § 2, it applies not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no “democratic society”. As set forth in Article 10, this freedom is subject to exceptions, but these must be construed strictly, and the need for any restrictions must be established convincingly....