Hate Speech, Indecency / Obscenity
Pussy Riot v. Russia
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The European Court of Human Rights determined that an individual’s anti-Semitic journalistic publications may not benefit from the protection of the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). A Russian national, Pavel Petrovich Ivanov, called for the exclusion of Jews from social life and protrayed the Jewish ethinic group as the source of all evils in his newspaper Russkoye Veche. A town court found him guilty of inciting racial, national, and religious hatred, and he was at first banned from engaging in journalism, but later the sentence was reduced to a fine. The Court reasoned that a vehement attack on an ethnic group contradicts the underlying values of the ECHR, most notably tolerance, social peace, and non-discrimination. Hence, such an attack would remove an applicant from the protection of Article 10 of the ECHR.
The applicant, Mr Pavel Petrovich Ivanov, is a Russian national who was born in 1948 and lives in Velikiy Novgorod.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarized as follows.
The applicant is the sole founder, owner and editor of the Russkoye Veche newspaper. The newspaper has been published monthly since 2000 at the applicant’s expense and has a circulation of 999 copies.
In 2003, the applicant was committed for trial on a charge of public incitement to ethnic, racial and religious hatred through the use of the mass-media (an offense under Article 282 § 1 of the Criminal Code). The prosecution’s case was that the applicant, through a series of publications in his newspaper, called for the exclusion of Jews from social life, alleged the existence of a causal link between social, economic and political discomfort and the activities of Jews, and portrayed the malignancy of the Jewish ethnic group.
At the trial the applicant asserted his innocence, maintaining that the “Ziono-Fascist leadership of the Jewry” was the source of all evils in Russia. He believed that, in the absence of reliable information, the Russian public could not learn the causes and reasons of its predicament. The aim of the publications in his newspaper had been to “[educate] the Russians and Jews who [had] suffered from Ziono-Fascist ideology”.
On 20 February 2004, the Novgorod Town Court found the applicant guilty of inciting racial, national and religious hatred, and prohibited him from engaging in journalism, and from publishing and disseminating in the mass-media for a period of three years. The finding of guilt was based, in particular, on socio-humanitarian, socio-psychological and linguistic reports, and on oral testimony by the experts. The applicant maintained before the court that he could not have incited to national hatred because the Jews did not exist as a race or nation.
The applicant lodged an appeal, reiterating that the Town Court wrongly considered that the “Jewish nation” existed.
On 27 April 2004, the Novgorod Regional Court upheld the conviction. It struck down the prohibition on journalistic activity because that particular form of penalty had been introduced into the Criminal Code after the imputed events, and instead sentenced the applicant to a fine of 10,000 Russian roubles (approximately 300 euros).
The Court noted at the outset that it is not its place to determine what evidence was required under Russian law to demonstrate the existence of the constituent elements of the offense of inciting to racial hatred. It is for the national authorities, most notably the national courts, to interpret and apply domestic law. The Court’s task is merely to review under Article 10 the decisions they delivered pursuant to their power of appreciation. (Ref Lehideux and Isorni v. France). Conversely, however, the Court noted that its case-law has enshrined the overriding and essential nature of the freedom of expression in a democratic society. (Ref Handyside v. UK).
In the present case, the applicant authored and published a series of articles portraying the Jews as the source of evil in Russia. He accused an entire ethnic group of plotting a conspiracy against the Russian people and ascribed Fascist ideology to the Jewish leadership. Both in his publications and in his oral submissions at trial, he consistently denied Jewish people the right to national dignity, claiming that they did not form a nation. The Court had no doubt as to the anti-Semitic tenor of the applicant’s views, and it agreed with the domestic courts that the applicant sought through his publications to incite hatred towards the Jewish people. In light of these facts, the Court found that such a general and vehement attack on one ethnic group is in contradiction with the Convention’s underlying values, notably tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination. Consequently, the Court found that, under Article 17 of the Convention, the applicant may not benefit from the protection afforded to him by Article 10 of the Convention.
As such, application was inadmissible.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case clarifies some well-known concepts under the ECHR, such as the ability the “shock, offend or disturb”, by Handyside v. UK, and the prohibition on revising well-known facts and well-established crimes, by Lehideux and Isorni v. France. This case is an example of a case in which a claimant crossed the threshold of the freedom to express, removing himself from the protection afforded by Article 10. He could thereby legitimately be convicted by his government of hate speech.
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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