Statements Le Pen Resulted in a Conviction in France
In a recent judgment, the European Court of Human Rights (published only in the French language) has rejected a complaint of the politician of the Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen complained against his conviction for inciting hatred in France. His conviction was based on, amongst other things, the following statement: ‘The day there are no longer 5 million but 25 million Muslims in France, they will be in charge. And the French will press their backs against the wall, will step off the sidewalk with their eyes fixed on the ground. If they do not do so, they will be told: “Why are you looking at me. You wanna fight?” Then you’d better start running, before you’re beaten up.’
Just like Dutch politician Wilders, Le Pen also based his defense on the argument that he did not mention Muslims as representatives of a faith, but of a political doctrine.
Broad Protection of the Freedom of Expression of Politicians
The Court first emphasized that the freedom of expression in the political debate merits the highest protection. This also applies if statements ‘shock, offend or disturb’, or if they are exaggerated or provoking. In Dutch case law this doctrine has been elaborately referred to by the Court of Appeal of The Hague in the political corruption affair of the municipality of Delft (also called the Gondola affair), which has been discussed here on Media Report.
ECHR: Freedom of Expression Does Not Protect Hate Speech
Still, Le Pen’s reliance on the freedom of speech was not successful. According to the European Court, with his statements Le Pen tried to create a sense of insecurity: the fewer Muslims, the safer the citizens. He placed Muslims directly opposite ‘the French’ and inspired feelings of hatred and rejection towards Muslims, according to the Court. His conviction for sowing hatred was therefore also necessary in a democratic society and an acceptable restriction of his freedom of speech.
In elaborate comments (in English) on the judgment, Professor Dirk Voorhof justifiably pointed out the consequences which this judgment may have in the proceedings against Wilders. Before, the media already mentioned the judgment in the Féret vs Belgium case of the same Court as a judgment that could be unpleasant for Wilders. On Media Report I already commented on the Féret case: in my opinion, the statements of the former leader of the Belgian Front National Féret cannot be directly compared with the statements for which Wilders now stands trial. That comparison seems somewhat more likely with the Le Pen ruling. It indeed seems that the judgment of the Court in the Le Pen case is not very positive news for Wilders.