Discriminating language by a member of Parliament can be punished according to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is probably not what the Belgian politician Daniël Féret imagined to be the outcome of the case he brought on himself. Opposite to what he hoped to achieve, the case led to a limitation of the freedom of speech for politicians. In 2006 Féret was convicted for encouraging hate/ endangering social peace, which resulted in a sentence of community service and he is not allowed to exercise his voting rights for 10 years, as a voter and as a candidate. Féret was prosecuted on the basis of a law that criminalizes hate against autochtones( ethnic minorities) and racism. Part of the considerations were that these actions fell outside the normal scope of his work as a politician (writing pamphlets). The court decided that the texts he produced encouraged discrimination, segregation, hate and even violence on the basis of race, color, nationality or ethnicity. Féret stood up against the so-called ‘islamization’ of Belgium en pleaded for closing down a refugee center. He complained with the ECHR but found four against three votes against his complaint. The press release of the judgement can be found here >>>.
A similar opinion was held by the Court of Amsterdam in the Netherlands in relation to Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the question whether or not he should be prosecuted. In this case the court emphasized the constitutional character of a democracy which implies the protection of minorities, that should have no problem in trusting the constitutional character of democratic institutions. This brings up the question of how far the freedom of speech of politicians reaches. In the legal discussion it is often set of against the principle of equality.
At the same time however, and based on limited information, part of the issue at hand appears to be not so much WHAT a politician expresses but about IN WHICH ROLE he does that. It strikes me that little or no attention is being given to the specifics of the case which according to the Belgian judge as I understand the media. The Belgian judge found as I understand that the writing of in this case litigious pamphlets/flyers was not part of the normal task of a member of parliament.
I guess this is an issue to give some more thought.
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