The Case of Sheikh Ali Salman [Bahrain]
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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.
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 indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
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 demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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