Klein v. Slovakia

European Court of Human Rights
31 October 2006

Facts

The applicant, Martin Klein, was a Slovakian journalist and film critic. In March 1997 the weekly magazine Domino Efekt published an article written by him in which he criticised Archbishop J. S. for his televised proposal to have the distribution of the film “The People v. Larry Flint” withdrawn as well as the poster publicising it. At the time, the weekly had a distribution of 8,000 copies and was aimed at intellectually-oriented readers. The applicant subsequently described the article as a literary joke with ideas and associations which might be appreciated by a few intellectuals. The article contained strong imagery which made reference to an act of incest committed between a church dignitary and his own mother in the film the Archbishop sought to outlaw. He also alluded to the Archbishop’s alleged cooperation with the secret police of the former communist regime. Finally, he invited the members of the Catholic Church to leave their church if they considered themselves to be decent and alleged that the representative of the church was an ogre.

Subsequently two associations complained that the religious feelings of their members had been offended by the article. The Archbishop first joined the proceedings as an aggrieved person but later withdrew and waived his right to claim compensation. Criminal proceedings were brought against the applicant and he was convicted of the offence of defamation of nation, race and belief and sentenced to a fine or to one month’s imprisonment. The court concluded that he had defamed the highest representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Slovakia and had thereby offended the members of that church. In particular it found that the applicant’s statement that he wondered why decent members of the church did not leave it had blatantly discredited and disparaged a group of citizens for their Catholic faith. That view was upheld by the court of appeal which found that the applicant had violated the rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, of a group of adherents to the Christian faith.

Complaint

The applicant complained that his conviction violated his right to freedom of expression.

Court's ruling

The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Contrary to the domestic courts’ findings, the Court was not persuaded that the applicant had discredited and disparaged a sector of the population on account of their Catholic faith in his article. The applicant’s strongly-worded pejorative opinion related exclusively to Archbishop J. S., a high representative of the Catholic Church in Slovakia. The fact that some members of the Catholic Church might have been offended by the applicant’s criticism of the Archbishop and by his statement that he did not understand why decent Catholics did not leave that Church did not affect that position.

The Court agreed with the applicant that the article neither unduly interfered with the right of believers to express and exercise their religion, nor did it denigrate the content of their religious faith. The Court therefore found that the applicant’s conviction was inappropriate in the particular circumstances of the case.

For those reasons, and despite the tone of the article which the Court observed contained innuendoes with oblique vulgar and sexual overtones, the Court found that it could not be concluded that by publishing the article the applicant interfered with the right to freedom of religion of others in a manner justifying the sanction imposed on him. The interference to his right to freedom of expression was therefore was not “necessary in a democratic society”.

Learn more

Last updated 08/11/2023