Content Regulation / Censorship, Hate Speech
R. v. Zundel
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The Supreme Court of Denmark found a Danish politician guilty of violating Section 266(b) of Danish Criminal Code for his comments toward Danish Muslims. Mogens Glistrup, a Danish politician and the founder of the Progress Party, appeared on a live television program in 1997 and expressed degrading statements toward the Muslim population in Denmark. The Court noted that public dissemination of insulting or degrading statements against a group of people on account of its race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, or sexual inclination violates Section 266(b). Although politicians enjoy an extensive right to freedom of expression, the Court reasoned that this right must be balanced with other human rights such as the right to protect religion from degrading sentiments. Hence, Glistrup was sentenced to seven-day imprisonment.
Mogens Glistrup was considered a controversial Danish politician in the late 1990s. During a debate show broadcasted on live television in 1997, Glistrup stated that “no one has explained what kind of world crime Muhamedanism [Islam] is,” and “anyone who has studied Muhamedanism know that they are only here to ingratiate themselves until they are strong enough to execute us.” He went further as to say that Muslims in Denmark “must go” because they pose real danger.
The government later charged him with violating Section 266(b) of Denmark’s Criminal Code, which imposes a fine or maximum of two-year imprisonment against “[a]ny person who, publicly or with the intention of wider dissemination, makes a statement or imparts other information by which a group of people are threatened, insulted or degraded on account of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, or sexual inclination.”
Glistrup argued that his statements were not degrading and that they were based on history and science expressed in a political debate. Furthermore, he claimed that his conviction would be a violation of the European Convention Human Rights’ guarantee of the right to freedom of expression.
The Supreme Court of Denmark delivered a unanimous decision.
The main issue before the Court was whether Glistrup violated Section 266(b) of Danish Criminal Code by making degrading statements about Danish Muslims on live television program.
Glistrup contended that his statements were made in a political context and should be protected under the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The Court, however, noted that his statements contained a clear message that Muslims “intend to castrate and kill the Danish general population, as soon as they become numerous enough to complete such extermination process.” It found that Glistrup purposefully subjected the Muslim population “to hatred based on their faith and origin. Thus, [his] opinions were manifestly insulting and degrading to this population.”
The Court emphasized that politicians have an “extensive right to freedom of expression concerning controversial affairs,” and that the “right to freedom of expression is fundamental in a democratic society,” but noted that the right must be exercised with necessary respect to other human rights, i.e., the right to protect religion from discriminating and degrading statements.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Denmark unanimously found Glistrup guilty of violating Section 266(b) and sentenced him to seven-day suspended imprisonment.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Despite stating the importance of the right to political speech, the Danish Supreme Court imposed criminal sanctions against Glistrup for insulting and degrading expressions against Muslims.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
“Any person who, publicly or with the intention of wider dissemination, makes a statement or imparts other information by which a group of people are threatened, insulted or degraded on account of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, or sexual inclination shall be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding two years.”
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