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Leroy v. France, No. 36109/03, ECtHR (Fifth Section), 2 October 2008


Condoning terrorism through a satirical drawing representing the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Lawful interference with freedom of expression.

Normative references

Art. 10 ECHR


1. In adopting measures to combat terrorism, a fair balance must be guaranteed between the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the right of democratic societies to protect themselves from the terrorist threat. In this regard, the prosecution of the apology of terrorism is particularly problematic. In such circumstances, importance should be given to the language used, to the general context in which words are employed and to the difficulties related to the fight against terrorism. (In the instant case, the applicant, a cartoonist, complained about his conviction for condoning terrorism, following the publication in a Basque weekly magazine of a satirical image representing the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Taking into account the caption that accompanied the impugned illustration and the political sensitivity of the region in which it had been published, the Court found that the drawing was capable of having an impact on public order, since it supported and glorified the violent destruction of the American imperialism. Consequently, having also regard to the modest nature of the fine imposed on the applicant, the Court found that the measure taken by national authorities had not been disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Accordingly, there had not been a violation of Article 10 ECHR).

2. Although the press must not threaten fundamental interests of the State such as national security, territorial integrity, the fight against terrorism, or the prevention of disorder and crime, it is nevertheless incumbent on it to impart information and ideas on political issues, including divisive ones. This is the role of the press in democracies. To this task corresponds the citizens’ right to be informed about debates of public interest. 

3. Satire is a form of artistic expression and social commentary. Given its intrinsic tendency to exaggeration and distortion of reality, it aims to provoke and disturb. Accordingly, any interference with the right of satire must be examined with particular attention. However, political satire may be subject to restrictions. Indeed, the exercise of freedom of expression involves "duties and responsibilities", as it is established by article 10, para. 2 ECHR.