Kilin v. Russia, No. 10271/12, ECtHR (Third Section), 11 May 2021
The ECtHR dealt with hate speech, particularly ethnic hatred, in a case concerning the right to freedom of expression in the use of social networks, protected under article 10 ECHR. In Kilin c. Russia, Russian judicial authorities had convicted the applicant for public calls to violence and ethnic discord against non-Russian ethnicities, particularly people of Azerbaijani origin. The applicant made it accessible to a group of people third-party content, including video and audio files, on a social-network account. The video showed a man dressed as an elderly woman expressing xenophobic and racist views, acting upon them and being incited by another person acting as a supporter of so-called nationalist or neo-Nazi ideas. The Court did not find any violation of article 10, maintaining that the restriction of freedom of expression was legitimate and proportionate to the aim pursued.
While reiterating that the right to freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, the Court underscored that this right applies not only to ideas or information that are favourably received as inoffensive but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Freedom of expression may, nevertheless, be limited under specific circumstances, which must be interpreted strictly and through restrictions being established convincingly (paragraph 51). Although the applicant had denied that the impugned video and audio content had been published by him, the Court proceeded on the assumption that there had been an interference with his right to freedom of expression (paragraph 53).
The ECtHR concluded that the conviction for ethnic hatred did not amount to any violation of article 10 because it was prescribed by law and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the rights of others, particularly the dignity of persons of Azerbaijani ethnicity – rather than national security, territorial integrity or public safety as the government held (paragraph 52). Finally, the nature and severity of the penalties imposed had been proportionate (paragraph 94).
(Comment by Giovanna Gilleri)