Saturday, May 22, 2010

Latvian Supreme Court clears neo-Nazi of race hate speech charges

The so-called "Senate" or highest appeal level of the Latvian Supreme Court (Augstākā tiesa) has let stand a lower appeals court decision clearing Latvian neo-Nazi Andris Jordāns of charges of inciting race hatred. Jordāns was originally sentenced to an 18 month jail term for statements he made at a meeting of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee denouncing Jews and Roma (gypsies) as "not being human".  There were a number of Latvian Jews in the audience during Jordan's remarks, which, as some video records show, were delivered in a normal, non-threatening tone of voice.
From news reports, it appears that the lower appeals court decision was based on a failure of prosecutors to prove that Jordāns' speech was an incitement to racial hatred. It did not touch the issue of whether there should be hate speech laws (probably more of a question for Latvia's Constitutional Court), simply that the prosecution failed to make its case.
Jordāns is precisely the kind of hard case (a racist, anti-semitic loony-tune) where it is necessary to separate principle from personality and stand by the broadest interpretation of free speech. Free expression applies to all speech and expression, regardless of its content and with some very, very narrow exceptions (had Jordān's statement immediately been followed by an attack on Jews in the audience, there might be a case, similarly, there could be a case for diminished responsibility based on provocation if a Jewish person from the audience had taken a punch at Jordāns).
We can all imagine supporting the free speech rights of a kind little old lady who is arrested for verbally protesting the closing of a shelter for stray cats. But the real test case is for people who we really, really don't like and whose politics, if implemented, are dangerous and totalitarian. That means people like Jordāns or some raving Muslim jihadist preacher.  Freedom for the thought we hate, as Anthony Lewis more or less formulated it.

1 comment:

TRex said...

Latvia needs to resolve this issue of free speech. Clearly denying human status to any group of fellow humans is a dog wistle to racists everywhere.