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FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Conviction of Member of Parliament for accusing minister of neglecting his duties out of loyalty towards father with Nazi sympathies: inadmissible.
KELLER – Hungary (No 33352/02)
Decision 4.4.2006 [Section II]
The applicant is a Member of Parliament. At a parliamentary session, while questioning the Prime Minister, the applicant alleged that failure to investigate a matter of national security, namely the practices of extreme right-wing groups, might have been due to the fact that the responsible Minister's father was a member of the Hungarista movement (an extreme right-wing movement related to Nazis). The applicant did not name the Minister in question. The next day, however, the national daily published an article quoting the applicant and specifying the identity of the Minister concerned (E.D.). Some days later, during his interview on a TV programme, the applicant confirmed that his statement in the Parliament had concerned indeed E.D. and his father.
The Minister E.D. and his father sued the applicant for violation of their “personality rights”. The firstinstance court separated the Minister's action from that of his father and found for the Minister. It held that the applicant had made a statement of fact supported by no evidence, thereby undermining the plaintiff's reputation and political credibility in light of the upcoming elections. The applicant was ordered to pay compensation for non-pecuniary damage and costs (totalling about 3,240 EUR), to have the decision published in the daily, and to make its contents public on a TV programme, all at his expense. The regional court dismissed the applicant's appeal, after having endorsed the first-instance court's finding that the impugned statement was a statement of fact. The regional court concluded that the applicant had failed to prove that E.D. had breached his official duties, namely to conduct a national security investigation, on account of his personal interests. The court nonetheless reduced the procedural fees payable by the applicant and exempted him from having a rectification broadcast.
The European Court found that the interference with the applicant's right to freedom of expression had a legal basis and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting reputation and rights of others. As to whether the measures were “necessary in a democratic society”, the Court observed that it was not disputed before the domestic courts that no investigation had taken place. Moreover, the issue of the alleged extreme right-wing affiliation of the plaintiff's father was excluded by those courts from the scope of their examination. As regards the sole remaining issue – namely whether the real motive for the plaintiff's omission to initiate the investigation in question was his father's participation in the Hungarista movement – the Court agreed with the domestic courts that the applicant's statement was essentially factual and susceptible of proof, which he had failed to offer. The Court shared the domestic courts' view that the applicant's utterances were capable of undermining public confidence in the integrity of the plaintiff as a high-ranking executive officer, accusing him of deliberately neglecting his duties for personal reasons, and all the more so since the applicant had implied that this reason might have been the plaintiff's loyalty towards his father who allegedly belonged to a movement with Nazi sympathies.
The Court recalled that the protection of the reputation of others provided for by Article 10(2) extended to politicians too, a fortiori to a situation where a politician was criticised by another one, especially if that criticism was voiced in the privileged arena of Parliament. However, the applicant had not limited himself to attacking his opponent in Parliament. The identity of the applicant's target had only become clear afterwards, with his further explanation in a television broadcast. Such public insinuations no longer benefited from the privilege afforded to parliamentary debate. Moreover, the applicant had been sued before the civil courts (rather than the criminal courts) and had been ordered to arrange for a rectification in the press and to pay damages in an amount which was less than twice the gross monthly salary to which he had been entitled at the time. The Court did not find those sanctions excessive in the circumstances of the case. The Court concluded that that the domestic courts' finding against the applicant and the sanctions imposed had not been disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, and that the reasons given by the domestic courts to justify those measures had been relevant and sufficient. The interference with the applicant's exercise of his right to freedom of expression could therefore reasonably be regarded by the national authorities as necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation and rights of others: manifestly ill founded.
Vesd össze: Kitartó nemzettestvérek (Hetek)
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