Global Freedom of Expression

Pia Kjaersgaard v. Karen Sunds

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    June 17, 2003
  • Outcome
    Acquittal, Official Court Documents Unavailable, ECtHR - non Freedom of Expression and Information article violations
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Denmark, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Racism, Libel, Political speech

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

 The Danish Supreme Court acquitted a politician of libel under Article 267 of the Danish Criminal Code. Karen Sunds, a Danish politician, appeared on a radio show where she stated that she was reluctant to be identified with the “racist views” of Pia Kjaersgaard, a prominent Danish politician and chairman of the Danish Peoples’ Party. The Court reasoned that Sunds’ criticism was protected by the right to freedom of expression and that it was put forward in a politically relevant context.


Karen Sunds was a Danish politician representing the political party The Popular Movement Against EU (“Folkebevægelsen mod EU”). During a radio show she said that she did not want to be identified with Pia Kjærsgaard, the then leader of the Danish Peoples’ Party (“Dansk Folkeparti”), because Kjærsgaard had “racist views.” This prompted Kjaersgaard to sue Sunds for criminal libel.

Sunds explained that Kjaersgaard’s racist viewpoints were the reason for not sharing a political platform with the Danish Peoples’ Party in the referendum on the introduction of the Euro in Denmark. She was sued for criminal libel according to the Danish Criminal Code Article 267 which states that “anybody who offends another person’s honor by insulting words or actions or by stating or disseminating charges, that are suitable for reducing the insulted person in the esteem of fellow citizens, will be punished by fine or ordinary imprisonment”.

Both the District and Appeal Court found Sunds guilty of criminal libel and ordered her to pay a fine. However, she was acquitted by the Danish Supreme Court.

Decision Overview

The District Court, the Appeal Court and the Danish Supreme Court all pointed out that there were three ways of defining “racism” in a contemporary context according to the Danish Language Board (“Dansk Sprognævn”): (i) the word could be used in relation to the race theory of Nazism and its consequences for the Jews; (ii) a word meaning the superiority of one race, especially concerning the relation between blacks and whites; and (iii) a word aiming at discrimination and suppression or dissociation from a group of people who could be of the same race as the individual making the statement.

Before the Supreme Court, Sunds stated that she used the word “racist viewpoints” in the third meaning, which the Supreme Court accepted.

When deciding whether Sunds’ statement was a violation of the Kjaersgaard’s honor, the Supreme Court noted that it was a question of whether the expression was improper in its form according to the Danish Criminal Code Article 267.

The Supreme Court found that Sunds’ statement should be put in relation to Kjaersgaard’s speech at the Danish People Party’s meeting the same year, where Kjaersgaard expressed “views not only aimed at limiting future immigration, but also a sharp and simplistic attack on resident immigrants, especially Muslims.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court emphasized that Sunds’ statement had been put forward in a politically relevant context.  For these reasons, the Supreme Court concluded that the statement of Sunds was not a violation of the Danish Criminal Code Article 267. Furthermore, the Supreme Court explicitly noted that an opposite result would be a violation of ECHR Article 10 concerning the right to freedom of expression.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

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

Expands Expression

The Supreme Court recognizes the importance of freedom of expression afforded in political debates concerning issues of relevance to the public. Thus, the Supreme Court found that the statement did not overstep the boundaries of freedom of expression.

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

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ECHR, art. 10
  • ECtHR, Unabhängige Initiative Informationsvielfalt v. Austria, App. No. 28525/95 (2002)

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Den., Penal Code, art. 267
  • Den., Penal Code, art. 270

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.

Official Case Documents

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