Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The end of lese majeste in Europe

Arnaldo Otegi is a Basque separatist leader. In 2003, after Spanish police raided and closed down a Basque leader and tortured its staff, he accused Spain's king, as head of the armed forces and police, of being ultimately responsible for torture and the oppression of his people. He was subsequently convicted of insulting the monarch - lese majeste - and sentenced to a year in jail.

Today, the European Court of Human Rights overturned that conviction on freedom of speech grounds, and ordered that Otegi be compensated. But its not just a victory for freedom of speech in Spain - other European nations, including Germany, Poland, Italy and Turkey also have lese majeste laws (laws protecting the "dignity" of monarchs or those in power from "insult" by being criticised). And those laws have now been effectively overturned. Given their abuse to stifle dissent, protect dictators, and punish protest, that can only be a good thing.