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European Court of Human Rights Affirms Sweden's Right to Punish Speech Offenders – Daniel Hammarberg

European Court of Human Rights Affirms Sweden's Right to Punish Speech Offenders – Daniel Hammarberg

This Thursday, the ECHR delivered the verdict in a hate speech case that was appealed to it five years ago, back on 4 January 2007. In December of 2004, seven young men were distributing leaflets about homosexuality at high school Staffanskolan in the small Swedish town of Söderhamn. The message on these leaflets was critical of the way homosexuality was presented in Swedish education and called for a debate on the topic. To quote the portion of leaflet later charged to be hate speech: (My translation)

“Homo sex propaganda

Society has in a few decades turned around from a dismissal of homosexuality and other sexual perversions to an embracing of this deviating sexual inclination. Your anti-Swedish teacher knows very well that homosexuality has a morally destructive effect on the national body and will readily try to present it as something normal and good.

Point out to your teacher that there has been a law in Sweden that outlawed homosexuality, but which under the first half of the 20th century was revoked. Tell him that HIV and AIDS appeared early among the homosexuals and that their promiscuous lifestyle has been one of the main reasons that this modern plague has taken hold. Also tell him that it was because of this that the now repealed “sauna club law” was introduced to prevent the spread of this disease. Tell him that the homo sex lobby with its agencies is also attempting to dedramatize pedophilia and ask him if this sexual perversion should be legalized.”

What followed after the leaflet distribution was over were criminal investigations for all seven men present that day, and their subsequent prosecutions made their way to the Swedish Supreme Court, the courts alternating guilty sentences with acquittals in a peculiar manner; the district court even sentence two of the men to prison. After the Supreme Court had joined in on declaring them guilty, they began their journey to Strasbourg to have the verdict tried there. I cover the Swedish legal case in more depth in my book The Madhouse, yet what’s new now is that the ECHR has responded to their application – in an alarming way.

Though the European Convention on Human Rights contain an article (#10) affirming the right to free speech, the ECHR has now officially affirmed the right of member states to instead prosecute speech offenders. A press release was sent out on 9 February along with a factsheet on “hate speech,” wherein is listed a number of similar cases and the verdicts in them. It also clarified what is considered “hate speech” by the ECHR:

”The European Court of Human Rights has identified a number of forms of expression which are to be considered offensive and contrary to the Convention (including racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, aggressive nationalism and discrimination against minorities and immigrants).”

An interesting addition to the list is the ambiguous term “aggressive nationalism.” Just what is it? Is rooting for your own country and looking down on others to be considered “aggressive nationalism,” legal grounds for incarceration of the offender? This certainly is a dangerous development. But to return to the case at hand. The verdict can be read at the ECHR site here; to quote:

“In the case of Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden, the Court found that the applicants’ conviction for distributing leaflets insulting homosexuals did not breach the right to freedom of expression. In conjunction with this judgment a new factsheet on “hate speech” has been published.”

“The case concerned the applicants’ conviction in 2005 for distributing in an upper secondary school approximately 100 leaflets considered by the courts to be offensive to homosexuals.”

“According to the leaflets, homosexuality was a “deviant sexual proclivity”, had “a morally destructive effect” on society and was responsible for the development of HIV and AIDS. The leaflets further alleged that the “homosexual lobby” tried to play down paedophilia. These statements had constituted serious and prejudicial allegations, even if they had not been a direct call to hateful acts. The Court stressed that discrimination based on sexual orientation was as serious as discrimination based on “race, origin or colour.”

Hence the ECHR now affirms the right of member states to send people “insulting homosexuals” to prison for their speech. As you may recall, a number of years ago a Christian minister in Sweden – Åke Green – was initially convicted of “hate speech” for his sermon on homosexuality – more information about his case here. Back then, when the Supreme Court finally acquitted Green, the Justices referred to the aforementioned convention as granting the minister his right to preach the Bible, even though they considered him guilty under Swedish law. My own belief, however, is that the convention didn’t matter all that much, but that they rather bowed to international pressure, especially from American churches, pressure that had put the kingdom of Sweden under scrutiny. And now, that last lifeline of free speech is gone, with this Thursday’s verdict and press release.

Another “hate speech” trial that was recently held in Sweden was the Dan Park one I described here. Two weeks ago, on 26 January, the verdict in that case was delivered by Lund District Court, one declaring defendant Park guilty. Though one of the plaintiffs called for incarceration, broke street artist Park was instead sentenced to combined fines of 26,000 Swedish crowns, or about $4,000.

If you’re vacationing in Europe these days, remember not to talk too loud. Some court just might find what you say “hate speech” and send you to prison for it, with the ECHR’s blessing.

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Daniel Hammarberg

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  • Matt C.

    A sad ending for this case, democracy where you essentially can’t disagree with the state is no democracy at all.

    On another note I was glad to see one of your videos on the Cavatus blog. Cavatus seems to be taking a break from blogging but allowing other writers to use his blog, perhaps you could write there. He has a big audience and it would be great to see more people learn about your writings.

    I finished your book ‘The Madhouse’ some months ago absolutely amazing for a first time author. I plan to re-read it, it was that good. One of these days I’ll get up the courage to write a review on Amazon where I got it.

    Speaking of your writing, hows the fiction going? I know you said you were going to come out with a fiction book about a family. Well if it’s out, or coming soon I’ll definitely get it.

    • Daniel Hammarberg

      Yep, I definitely agree that freedom of speech is integral to a democracy.

      Ooh, happy to hear other people are taking notice of my videos. Which one was it? I’ve not made that many new ones lately to be honest, the latest was a comparison I made of Charles Manson with a child molester here in Sweden. Many thanks for the tip about the blog, definitely sounds interesting.

      I’m also glad you liked my book, it took a whole lot of time doing all the research. I’ve not yet received any big media recognition, but I guess I’m slowly reaching out to a larger audience at least, so there’s still hope. I’d love more reviews on Amazon.

      I put the novel I mentioned on Amazon on hold since I started working on other projects back then. But I’ve done some serious work on another fiction novel lately, one more intended as comedy. It’s pretty much a mockery of everything that’s considered politically correct, kind of a work of defiance. I’ve really worked on the entertainment aspect, but perhaps it can also become a statement against censorship, a topic of debate when it comes to free speech. I’m glad I can self-publish it through American Amazon, because it would most definitely be banned here in Sweden.

      I guess I should update the biographical information I’ve got up on Amazon since it’s not up-to-date any more, but I’m not entirely sure what to replace it with for now.

      Well, thanks for showing interest in my work and for stopping by my blog!

  • Matt C.

    You probably already checked but since you asked the video was ‘Sweden’s crime rate’.

    The site ‘Cavatus’s blog’ and yours are the only political blogs written by Swedes in English that I’m aware of. It’s very hard to find much information from Sweden it’s self as an English speaker. I’m a regular reader of both. Of course there is ‘The Local’ that online newspaper that translates news articles from Swedish to English for anyone curious about Swedish news reporting. For those in the UK think ‘The Guardian’.

    I just checked the video you mentioned I was wondering why I hadn’t seen it. When I looked I realized it was in Swedish so I had seen it there just never watched it. Watched it just now, you give a good description in the comments section.

  • Aleksandra

    Hi, as much as I agree with the facts on the leaflets – I think the phrasing was not very fortunate. Sorry for a ‘hate speech’ but I am afraid this is the mistake protestants make in preaching. Possibly Ake Green did the same.
    The catholic church faces and comments the same problem, but in a totally different manner, it definitely tries to reach out to them and help, rather than just criticize and reject. I think all christians should learn it, we are also guilty of HATE SPEECH very often, regardless our good intentions and ‘being right’. I hope you know what I mean.
    You may say the same thing in different ways, here, the sentence “your anti-Swedish teacher knows very well that homosexuality has a morally destructive effect…” do sound strong and hateful, plus it s not quite true. Calling people names is not a greatest example of a ‘peace speech’ – did Christ do it? It is definitely a hate speech example…
    Then, finally, it is not the homosexuality itself that causes anything, it is the PRACTISING of it. It is definitely the wrong doing of the state that allows homosexual couples adopt children and so on, this is WRONG. But not the fact of being a homosexual. I think this is the very important distinction.


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