Judges have ruled that Switzerland’s authorities did not breach human rights law in their handling of a row over the alleged anti-Semitic comments of a university professor.
The European Court of Human Rights announced its decision in the case CICAD v. Switzerland (no. 17676/09) on 7 June.
The applicant association, CICAD (Inter-community Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation), was established under Swiss law and is registered in Geneva (Switzerland).
The case concerned a judgment against the CICAD association in civil proceedings for describing statements by a university professor as anti-Semitic on its website.
In 2005 a book entitled Israël et l’autre (“Israel and the Other”) was published with the support of the University of Geneva, edited by W.O., a professor of political science who was himself of Jewish descent through his mother.
The book contained a series of contributions from academics and intellectuals on the role of Judaism in the policy pursued by the State of Israel and the consequences thereof.
Professor W.O. supervised the publication and wrote the foreword.
On 28 November 2005, following the publication of the book, CICAD published an article in Newsletter no. 115 on its website, in which the author (M.S.) criticised the book and alleged that W.O. had made anti-Semitic statements in the foreword. Professor W.O. responded to the allegations in the association’s Newsletter of 18 January 2006.
On 11 March 2006 an article by M.S. that was very similar to his previous article was published in Cahiers Bernard Lazare, concerning the book Israël et l’autre and the professor’s statements.
On 11 July 2006, Professor W.O. brought a civil claim against CICAD and M.S., alleging unlawful interference with his personality rights. On 31 May 2007 the Canton of Geneva Court of First Instance allowed his claim, finding that the comments by the author of the article were unlawful.
It ordered the removal of the offending article from the association’s website and the publication of the findings reached in its judgment in the association’s Newsletter and the Revue juive. CICAD and M.S. appealed to the Canton of Geneva Court of Justice, which upheld the first-instance judgment on 21 December 2007, specifying that only the most significant findings made in its judgment were to be published.
It held, among other things, that an attack on a person’s honour for the purposes of the Civil Code was to be construed more broadly than in a criminal context, extending to professional, economic and social standing, and that on account of Professor W.O.’s occupation, the allegation levelled at him by the association was likely to lower him significantly in public esteem.
An appeal by CICAD and M.S. to the Federal Court was dismissed on 28 July 2008.
Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention, CICAD complained about the civil judgment against it for describing the statements of a university professor as anti-Semitic.
Decision: No violation of Article 10