Global Freedom of Expression

Féret v. Belgium

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    July 16, 2009
  • Outcome
    Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Belgium, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
  • Themes
    Hate Speech

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Court held by 4 votes to 3 that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to the conviction of the applicant–chairman of the political party “Front National”–for publicly inciting discrimination or hatred following complaints concerning leaflets distributed by that party during election campaigns. As the preliminary application under Article 10 failed, the remainder of the application was not admissible.


The applicant, Mr Daniel Féret, is a Belgian national, born in 1944 and lives in Brussels.. Mr. Féret was the editor in chief of the party’s publications and was a member of the Belgian House of Representatives at the relevant time. His parliamentary immunity was waived at the request of the Public Prosecutor and in November 2002, when criminal proceedings were brought against Féret as author and editor-in-chief of the offending leaflets.

Between July 1999 and October 2001 the distribution of leaflets and posters by the Front National, led to complaints by individuals and associations for incitement of hatred, discrimination and violence, filed under a law of 30 July 1981 which penalized certain acts inspired by racism or xenophobia. The leaflets and posters were also distributed on the Internet on the website of Féret and Front National.

Decision Overview

While the freedom to express oneself is an important factor in a democratic society, it is particularly important for a person who is an elected representative of the people. He or she represents the electorate and defend their interests. As such, the court reiterated the importance for politicians when expressing themselves in public, as the chances of reaching a wider audience, and the ability to influence is higher, therefore the need to avoid comments that might foster intolerance.

In a electoral context, the arguments naturally become more forceful, and because of that the impact of racist and xenophobic discourse would be magnified. In the present case there had been a compelling need to protect the rights of the minorities, and the immigrant community. The Belgian courts have acted properly in the act to prevent the discourse.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

This case neither expands nor contracts the freedom of expression. Rather it places a limitation for the identity of the statement maker, outlining the importance of the standing of the statement maker, the potential audience that the statement could reach, and therefore the greater impact in the event of a wider audience.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Decision (including concurring or dissenting opinions) establishes influential or persuasive precedent outside its jurisdiction.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

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