The Case of Sheikh Ali Salman [Bahrain]
Closed Contracts Expression
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The Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that there had been no violation of violation of Article 10 in relation to the the applicant. In 2005, the applicant was fined 10,000 Euros for incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence due to statements he made about Muslims living in France in an interview given to Le Monde. He stated, amongst others, that “the day there are no longer 5 million but 25 million Muslims in France, they will be in charge.” In 2006 he was fined an additional 10,000 EUR for further comments he made regarding his initial fine. The European Court of Human Rights found the application to be manifestly ill-founded since the applicant’s statements promoted rejection and hostility against the Muslim community and could not, therefore, fall within the framework of speech protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This case involved Jean Marie Le Pen, the (former) president of the French political party ‘National Front’ who alleged that his Article 10 right to freedom of expression had been violated following his conviction for statements he made made during a 2005 interview with Le Monde. Specifically, he received a fine of 10,000 Euros from the first instance court for “incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence towards a group of people because of their origin or their membership or non-membership of a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion.” During his interview he said that “the day there are no longer 5 million but 25 million Muslims in France, they will be in charge.” In 2006, he received another fine of the same amount by the Paris Court of Appeal after commenting on the first fine in the weekly Rivarol and stating that “When I tell people that when we have 25 million Muslims in France we French will have to watch our step, they often reply: ‘But Mr Le Pen, that is already the case now!’ – and they are right.”
The Fifth Section of the ECtHR unanimously held the application manifestly ill-founded on the grounds that the nature of his statements promoted rejection and hostility against Muslims.
The main issue before the court was ascertaining whether Le Pen’s conviction for inciting hatred against Muslims amounted to a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The applicant argued that his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. had been violated as he received a fine for 10,000 EUR for statements he made to Le Monde and an additional EUR 10,000 for statements made to the weekly Rivarol. The former included, amongst others, that “the day there are no longer 5 million but 25 million Muslims in France, they will be in charge.” The latter was a commentary upon his 10,000 EUR fine when he said “when I tell people that when we have 25 million Muslims in France we French will have to watch our step, they often reply: ‘But Mr Le Pen, that is already the case now!’ – and they are right.” He contested the legal basis, necessity and proportionality of the interference with his freedom of expression and noted, in particular, that his comments were made in the ambit of a political debate on immigration and did not target Muslims because of their religion or Islam as such.
The applicant’s conviction on a national level were based on Article 23 and Article 24 of the Law of the 29th July 1991 on press freedom. Article 23 (the incitement clause) and Article 24 on incitement against a person or group because of their membership or non-membership to an ethnic group, nation, race or religion.
The ECtHR relied on its well-established case law to underline the importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society, referring to Handyside v. the United Kingdom, Lingens v Austria and Jersild v Denmark.
The Court did look at aspects of the Article 10 tests such as the necessity and proportionality of an interference, but did not do so as extensively as it has done in other cases such as Féret v Belgiuim, since it considered the nature of the applicant’s statements to fall outside the protection of Article 10. However, it did make some important comments. In relation to the interference being necessary in a democratic society, the Court recalled the requirement of the fulfillment of a pressing social need and, in this regard, reiterated (relying on Lehideux v France) that it is primarily for national authorities to interpret and apply domestic law. Relying on cases such as Chauvy and Others v France, it noted that the Court must determine whether the reasons invoked by national authorities are relevant, sufficient and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (in this case the protection of the rights and reputation of others). It also underlined the importance of freedom of expression in the context of a political debate, referring to Willem v France and Almeida Azvedo v Portugal. The Court noted however that Le Pen’s words were certainly capable of giving a “negative, and even worrying, image of the Muslim community as a whole.” It referred to the analysis of the applicant’s statements undertook at the Court of Appeal level which found that Le Pen “instilled in the minds of the public the conviction that the safety of the French lay in the rejection of Muslims and that worry and fear, linked to their growing presence in France, would cease if their number decreased and if they disappeared.” Although no explicit reference was made by the Court to the particular duties of politicians in contributing to overall social cohesion and the overall responsibilities attached to political speech, as was the case in Féret v Belgiuim, this line of reasoning was implicitly reflected in the judgement. For example, the Court noted the significance of allowing free political speech but also underlined the need to protect the rights of others and the importance of combatting racial discrimination.
In light of the above the ECtHR found that the nature of the applicant’s statements promoted rejection and hostility of the Muslim community and, as such, considered the application to fall outside Article 10 protection, holding that it is manifestly ill-founded.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ECtHR considers that the statements made by Le Pen were of such a nature that they did not fall within the framework of Article 10 protection. Although no reference was made to Article 17 and whilst limited analysis of relevant case law was made, there was no extensive legal assessment and application of Article 10 to the facts since the Court found the application to be manifested ill-founded.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Article 23 and Article 24
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
This judgment establishes a binding or persuasive precedent since the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments are binding upon parties to the decision.
This judgment has precedential value on the interpretation on the right to freedom of expression but also on the use of the inadmissibility clause on other States Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights.
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