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Association Ekin v. France, No. 39288/98, ECtHR (Third Section), 17 July 2001


Legislations discriminating against publications of foreign origin. Dissemination of separatist propaganda and incitement to violence through books. Unlawful interference with freedom of expression. 

Normative references

Art. 10 ECHR


1. The ban throughout France on the circulation, distribution and sale of a book on the Basque culture published by the applicant association is unlawful, since it results in an illegitimate interference with the right to freedom of expression – an integral part of which is the freedom to publish written documents and books. Although in the French authorities’ view the book was apt to encourage separatism, the Court notes that its content did not justify so serious interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression. The book’s contents did not suggest incitement to violence or separatism. As a consequence, the general prohibition of the book at issue was not proportionate to the aim of preventing disorder and public safety and it could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society ex Article 10 ECHR. 

2. Administrative bans on the dissemination of publications of foreign origin or written in a foreign language are not necessarily incompatible with the Convention. However, tight control over the scope of the bans and an effective judicial review have to be ensured. On the contrary, laws discriminating against foreign publications, that do not provide guarantees against abuses, conflict with the wording of paragraph 1 of Article 10 ECHR – according to which freedom of expression is secured “regardless of frontiers”. (In the instant case, the Court considers section 14 of the French Law of 29 July 1881, which authorizes bans and seizures of written documents of foreign origin for reasons related to public order. The Court found that the law does not state the circumstances in which the power may be used and that the judicial-review procedures of administrative bans provide insufficient guarantees against abuses).