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Germany: Anti-abortion activist’s leaflet distribution ban breached human rights laws

Banning an anti-abortion activist from distributing leaflets near a German clinic, violated his right to freedom of expression, the European court ruled today.

The case of Annen v. Germany (application no. 3690/10) also concerned a civil injunction by the German courts which prohibited an activist from continuing to list on his website the names of the doctors running the clinic.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been:

a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, on account of the order to stop distributing the leaflets in question,

and

a violation of Article 10 in its procedural aspect, on account of the order to stop listing the names of the doctors on the website in question.

The applicant, Klaus Günter Annen, is a German national who was born in 1951 and lives in Weinheim (Germany). In July 2005, as part of a campaign, Annen distributed leaflets in the immediate vicinity of a day clinic which performed abortions. The leaflets alleged, in bold letters, that the two doctors running the clinic, whose full names and address were mentioned, performed “unlawful abortions.”

This statement was followed by an explanation in smaller letters stating that the abortions were allowed by the German legislator and were not subject to criminal liability.

Strasbourg judges found that the German courts had failed to strike a fair balance between Annen’s right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights. In particular, in the leaflets it was made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability.

Moreover, while the leaflets included a reference to the Holocaust, they did not compare the doctors’ professional activities to the Nazi regime and did not explicitly equate abortions with the Holocaust.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court rejected Annen’s claim for non-pecuniary damage. It further held that Germany was to pay him 13,696.87 euros (EUR) in respect of costs and expenses.

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