Content Regulation / Censorship, Gender Expression, Indecency / Obscenity
The State v. Momar Sowe and Alieu Sarr
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) found inadmissible the appeal of an artist seeking to overturn the domestic court’s confiscation of pictures of young women in sexual poses as an art project.
The applicant was Ms. Ulla Annikki Karttunen. The applicant was an artist and put on display at a public art gallery hundreds of photographs of young women in sexual poses. The photos were seized by Finland’s police and a prosecutor pressed charges against the applicant. A District Court in Finland found the applicant guilty of possessing and distributing obscene pictures involving children. No sanctions were imposed, but all the photos were confiscated. The applicant appealed to Finland’s Appellate Court claiming “that her work as an artist had to be equated with the work of a journalist or scientist, and that she had therefore had a justification for the possession and the distribution of the pictures in question.” Para. 7. That Court disagreed and affirmed the District Court. The applicant appealed to the Supreme Court which refused the appeal. The applicant then lodged the present application before the ECtHR.
The decision of the ECtHR was unanimous. Nicolas Bratza presided as president of the Court.
The applicant argued that, by confiscating the images, the Finnish government had violated her right to artistic expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The Court agreed that there was a violation of Article 10. However, the violation fit two exceptions under that Article: it was prescribed by law and it pursued a legitimate aim. The Court next turned to whether this restriction was necessary in a democratic society. The Court found that this restriction was necessary to protect the morals and rights of minors or potential minors involved in the case at hand. Moreover, the District Court recognized the applicants’ intentions were good and therefore only confiscated the photos and did not impose sanctions. Therefore, the Court deemed the appeal inadmissible.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case does not expand or contract expression. It upholds the principle that obscene speech does not warrant protection of Article 10 and bans the use of pictures depicting child pornography-like imagery.
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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