The applicant, Mr. Feret, was a chairman of a political party and a member of the Belgian House of Representatives. His party distributed leaflets presenting non-European immigrant communities as criminally-minded and keen to exploit the benefits they derived from living in Belgium. The applicant’s parliamentary immunity was lifted and criminal proceedings were brought against him as the author and editor-in-chief of the offending leaflets. The court found that the leaflets contained passages that represented a clear and deliberate incitation to discrimination, segregation or hatred, and even violence, for reasons of race, color or national or ethnic origin. The applicant was sentenced to 250 hours of community service, together with a 10-month suspended prison sentence. He was also declared ineligible for election for ten years.
Mr. Feret complained that his conviction violated his right to freedom of expression.
The Court found that the conviction of Mr. Feret did not violate his freedom of expression, as he had used it in a way which undermined the dignity and safety of other people.
The Court emphasized that political parties had the right to defend their opinions in public. However, the political speech that stirred hatred based on religious, ethnic or cultural prejudices was a threat to social peace and political stability. The wording of leaflets was clearly an invitation to discrimination and racial hatred. Therefore, the conviction of Mr. Feret was necessary in democratic society and also did not go beyond what is necessary, since the punishment was proportional to the applicant’s wrongdoings.