ECtHR Takes Tough Stance on Homophobic Hate Speech in Online Media
Europe and Human Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence
The European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) made a ground-breaking decision in the case of Lenis v. Greece, marking the first instance where Article 17 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) was applied to homophobic hate speech. Article 17, known as the "abuse of rights" provision, allows the Court to reject individual applications that are clearly contrary to the values of the Convention. This provision is rarely invoked and is reserved for exceptional circumstances.
Prior to this case, the Court had dealt with instances of homophobic hate speech, such as Vejdeland v. Sweden in 2012 and Lilliendahl v. Iceland in 2020. However, these cases were adjudicated without invoking Article 17, primarily relying on Article 10, which protects freedom of expression. The Court had been cautious in balancing the right to freedom of expression with the need to protect vulnerable communities from hate speech.
In Lenis v. Greece, the applicant, a senior official of the Greek Orthodox Church, was prosecuted and sentenced for incitement to hatred and discrimination after posting a homophobic article on his personal blog. He appealed to the ECtHR, claiming a violation of his freedom of expression under Article 10. The Court, however, took an unprecedented step by applying Article 17, declaring the application inadmissible. It found that Lenis was attempting to misuse the freedom of expression for ends that were clearly contrary to the values of the Convention.
This landmark decision has significant implications for the jurisprudence of the ECtHR. It sets a precedent for the application of Article 17 in cases involving hate speech, particularly when it emanates from influential figures. The Court's decision underscores its commitment to uphold the values of human dignity and equality, even when they conflict with other rights protected by the Convention. It serves as a legal milestone, reinforcing that the Court will not tolerate the abuse of rights to propagate hate speech against vulnerable communities.
The application of Article 17 in Lenis v. Greece is a pivotal moment in the Court's approach to homophobic hate speech, signalling a more robust stance against expressions that are fundamentally at odds with the principles of the Convention.
Sources and Further Reading:
European Court of Human Rights. (2023). Lenis v. Greece (Application No. 47833/20)
European Court of Human Rights. (2012). Vejdeland v. Sweden (Application No. 1813/07)
European Court of Human Rights. (2020). Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl v. Iceland (Application No. 29297/18)
Council of Europe. (1950). European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10: Freedom of Expression
Council of Europe. (1950). European Convention on Human Rights, Article 17: Prohibition of Abuse of Rights
Fedele, G. (2020). No Room for Homophobic Hate Speech under the EHCR: Carl Johann Lilliendahl v. Iceland. Retrieved from https://strasbourgobservers.com/2020/06/26/no-room-for-homophobic-hate-speech-under-the-ehcr-carl-johann-lilliendahl-v-iceland/
European Court of Human Rights. (2023). Decision Lenis v. Greece: Homophobic article by senior official of Greek Orthodox Church was incompatible with the Convention. Retrieved from https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf/?library=ECHR&id=003-7730562-10691849&filename=Decision%20Lenis%20v.%20Greece%20-%20Homophobic%20article%20by%20senior%20official%20of%20Greek%20Orthodox%20Church%20was%20incompatible%20with%20the%20Convention.pdf