Human rights judges have appealed for a “cautious” approach to hatespeech by governments after ruling that Russia had been harsh in jailing for five years, a critic of the Chechnya conflict.
In its 9 May judgment in the case of Stomakhin v. Russia (application no. 52273/07) theEuropean Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held by four votes to three that Russia was to pay the applicant 12,500 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage and rejected his claim in respect of costs and expenses by six votes to one.
The case concerned the applicant Boris Vladimirovich Stomakhin’s conviction and sentence to five years in jail for newsletter articles he had written on the armed conflict in Chechnya, which the domestic courts said had justified terrorism and violence and incited hatred.
The European court found that some of the articles had gone beyond the bounds of acceptable criticism and had amounted to calls for violence and the justification of terrorism. Other statements, however, had been within acceptable limits of criticism.
Overall, there had not been a pressing social need to interfere with Stomakhin’s rights by penalising him for some of his comments and the harshness of the penalty had violated his rights.
The court urged governments to be cautious when considering what was hate speech and what was
criticism of the authorities.