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ECtHR delivers its first judgment in a case of hate-speech against homosexuals

May 3rd 2012

In the case Vejdeland and others v Sweden, the applicants held that the Supreme Court had violated their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights when convicting them for agitation against a national or ethnic group.

In the case Vejdeland and others v Sweden (application n° 1813/07), the applicants held that the Supreme Court had violated their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights when convicting them for agitation against a national or ethnic group (Chapter 16, Article 8 of the Penal Code (Brottsbalken, SFS 1962:700) provides that a person who, in a disseminated statement or communication, threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, should be convicted of agitation against a national or ethnic group).

The applicants had distributed in the lockers of the pupils of a Swedish upper secondary school, flyers aiming at starting a debate between pupils and teachers about the lack of objectivity of education in Swedish schools. The flyers incited pupils to question the positive image of homosexuality portrayed by their teachers by arguing for instance that homosexuality is a “deviant sexual proclivity” that had a “morally destructive effect on the substance of society”.

The Swedish Supreme Court interpretation was upheld earlier this year by the Strasbourg judges who applied for the first time the ECtHR jurisprudence on speech offensive to certain groups to speech which is offensive to homosexuals. Considering facts such as the unnecessarily offensive nature of the leaflets and the impossibility for the pupils to refuse to accept them, the Court concluded that the applicants’ right to freedom of expression had not been violated.