Case of European Court of Human Rights, March 15, 2011 (case Otegi Mondragon v. Spain)

Resolution DateMarch 15, 2011

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 139

March 2011

Otegi Mondragon v. Spain - 2034/07

Judgment 15.3.2011 [Section III]

Article 10

Article 10-1

Freedom of expression

Criminal conviction for insulting the King: violation

Facts – During a press conference, the applicant, as spokesperson for a Basque parliamentary group, commented on the recent closure of a Basque newspaper, the arrest of its main editors and their complaint of ill-treatment while in custody. Referring to the King of Spain’s visit to the Basque Country, he stated: “How can one be photographed today in Bilbao with the King of Spain, when [he] is the supreme head of the Spanish army, that is, the person who commands torturers, defends torture and imposes his monarchical regime on our people through torture and violence?” The applicant was subsequently sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for causing serious insult to the King. His appeals were unsuccessful.

Law – Article 10: The applicant’s remarks had been made in the context of a public debate of general interest. The margin of appreciation enjoyed by the authorities in assessing the need for the sanction imposed on him had therefore been particularly narrow. The domestic courts had considered that the applicant’s comments were value judgments rather than statements of fact. However, they had also held that the context in which those comments had been made could not justify their seriousness, given that the complaints of alleged torture had been dropped on the ground of insufficient evidence. In this connection, the Court noted that the phrases used could have been deemed to be part of a wider public debate on the potential responsibility of the State security forces in cases of ill-treatment. While it was true that the language used by the applicant could have been considered provocative, it was essential to bear in mind that, even if some of the words used in the applicant’s comments had been hostile in nature, there had been no incitement to violence and they had not amounted to hate speech. Furthermore, these had been oral statements made in the course of a press conference, which meant that the applicant...

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