SECOND SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 33352/02 
by László KELLER 
against Hungary

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on 4 April 2006 as a Chamber composed of:

Mr J.-P. Costa, President
 Mr A.B. Baka
 Mr R. Türmen
 Mr M. Ugrekhelidze
 Mrs E. Fura-Sandström
 Ms D. Jočienė, 
 Mr D. Popović, judges
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 16 August 2002,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicant, Mr László Keller, is a Hungarian national, who was born in 1955 and lives in Budaörs. He is represented before the Court by Mr K. Bárd, a lawyer practising in Budapest, and Ms Helen Duffy, Legal Director of the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS), London. The respondent Government are represented by Mr L. Höltzl, Deputy State-Secretary, Ministry of Justice.

The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

A.  Particular circumstances of the case

1.  The statement made by the applicant

The applicant is a Member of Parliament and delegate of the Hungarian Socialist Party. The Socialist Party was in opposition between 1998 and 2002. At the material time, the applicant was deputy head of the parliamentary group of his party and member of the Budgetary and Financial Permanent Committee.

On 19 December 2000, at a parliamentary session concerning ‘prompt questions and answers’, the applicant addressed a question to the Prime Minister about the existence of any relationship between the incumbent Minister of Agriculture and Regional Development (J.T.) and some foreign extreme right-wing groups. The Prime Minister answered that he was unaware of such a relationship and that he was sceptical about characterising certain groups as extreme right-wing.

Being dissatisfied with the answer, the applicant said:

“I cannot exclude the possibility that the lack of investigation into the system of connections I was referring to could be affected perhaps by the fact that your Minister’s – your responsible Minister’s – father is a member of the Hungarista movement1 that I mentioned.”

(“Nem tudom azt kizárni, hogy azért, mert nem indult vizsgálat még abban a kapcsolati rendszerben, amire én utaltam, esetleg közrejátszik az, hogy éppen az Ön miniszterének, felelős miniszterének az édesapja annak a hungarista mozgalomnak a tagja, amelyre én utaltam.”)

In his reply, the Prime Minister said:

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am not sure if I have understood everything precisely, if that were the case, may Mr Deputy excuse me, it must be my fault. Although I do not know the family of [J.T.] particularly well, which should perhaps not be a reproach against me, I believe Mr Minister’s father died when Mr Minister was 15. It is therefore quite difficult to establish whether or not he was a Hungarista.”

On 20 December 2000 an article under the title The “Hungarists” have been encouraged by foreigners to support [Minister J.T.] was published in the national daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap. In the article it was stated that,

“... according to the [applicant], the lack of investigation into a matter of national security could be related to the fact that the father of E.D., the Minister without portfolio supervising the Civilian Secret Services, participated in the Hungarista movement.”

The applicant states that E.D.’s father published articles in right-wing Hungarian periodicals affiliated with groups that had personal relations to the Hungarista movement abroad.

On 23 December 2000 the applicant gave a detailed interview in the television programme Tények (“Facts”). For the first time, he specified that the “responsible Minister” was indeed E.D. – rather than J.T. – and that the statement quoted above related to him and his father.

2.  First-instance civil proceedings

On 25 January 2001 E.D. and his father brought a civil action against the applicant alleging that the incriminated statement had violated their ‘personality rights’ (személyhez fűződő jogok). E.D. contended that it amounted to accusing him of having abused his administrative authority, conduct potentially susceptible to prosecution. He also asserted that it was capable of influencing, in a negative way, the appraisal of his activity as Minister and that of his personality as a public figure. Therefore, he sought the declaration of a violation of his personality rights, 900,000 Hungarian forints (HUF) in compensation and an injunction obliging the applicant to apologise in public.

The Budaörs District Court held hearings on 19 June and 30 October 2001. On the latter date the District Court separated E.D.’s action from that of his father2, and found that there had been a violation of E.D.’s personality rights. It held that the applicant had made a statement of fact regarding the absence of an investigation and the underlying reasons, together with a negative appraisal of the Minister’s conduct, both of which could harm the Minister’s reputation.

The court referred to the fact that the Minister was a well-known figure in public life, noting that allegations against such a person were bound to come to the public’s knowledge and that therefore his reputation could be seriously affected. It also noted that the statement concerned had undermined the plaintiff’s political credibility and – having special regard to the upcoming 2002 elections – was capable of substantially reducing his reputation in the voters’ eyes.

The court found that the burden of proof was on the applicant, in whose interests it was to prove the truth of the alleged facts, namely, the absence of an investigation and the reasons for it. Notwithstanding the court’s reminder to this effect, the applicant did not provide such evidence, since he stated that he ‘was of a different legal opinion’.

Relying on sections 78 and 84(1) of the Civil Code, the District Court declared that E.D.’s personality rights had been violated and ordered the applicant to pay HUF 700,000 in compensation for non-pecuniary damage, HUF 42,500 in legal costs and HUF 51,000 in stamp duty.3 Moreover, the applicant was ordered to have the decision published in the daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap within 15 days, and to make its contents public in the television programme Tények, all at his expense. Finally, the court ordered him to refrain from any further infringement of E.D.’s personality rights.

3.  Second-instance civil proceedings

The applicant appealed. He argued, inter alia, that he could not be reproached for having knowingly made untrue statements since the plaintiff himself had declared not to have been under any obligation to initiate the investigation in question. Moreover, the incriminated statement, in so far as it concerned the plaintiff’s father, was in his view not susceptible to proof in the instant proceedings, since that issue had been disjoined and was being dealt with in separate proceedings.

After a hearing on 14 February 2002, the Pest County Regional Court partly amended the District Court’s decision on 21 February 2002. It held as follows:

“The findings of fact of the first-instance court were correct.

Contrary to the defendant’s view, the court was not wrong when it considered the defendant’s liability for the publications in Magyar Hírlap and what had been said in Tények ..., notwithstanding that, either in the article or the television programme, the impugned statements had not been made by the defendant himself.

The plaintiff did not base his [claims] on the fact that the defendant had been interviewed in Magyar Hírlap and [Tények] which violated [E.D.’s] reputation, in breach of section 78 of the Civil Code. The [subject matter] of the action was the statement made by the defendant in Parliament, having regard to the fact that it had been published in Magyar Hírlap, and that the defendant had explained in [Tények] that it concerned the plaintiff’s father and that the responsible Minister was the plaintiff. In the Regional Court’s view, the action may not be interpreted narrowly, namely as if it had been aimed at obtaining legal protection only for what had been published in the media. ...

The defendant made the impugned statement in Parliament, in his capacity as an MP. He cannot successfully argue that, since he did not agree to its ... publication, he is not liable for the contents of the statement which appeared in the media, because, given the circumstances of the statement and having regard to the obvious role the press plays in informing the general public of the activities of Parliament, he could expect that his statement would appear in the press.

The report, broadcast in Tények, as a whole – rather than just what the defendant had said himself – amounted to the reiteration of the impugned statement, since the defendant’s utterance in the programme – ‘When I am speaking of the Office of National Security, I think the Minister responsible for the investigation may be E.D.’ – was aimed at clarifying his reference in Parliament to the ‘responsible Minister’ and identifying the person unambiguously.

In these circumstances, the statement ... in Tények was an authentic and more precise reiteration of what the defendant had said in Parliament.”

The Regional Court agreed with the District Court in finding that the defendant’s statement was a statement of fact concerning the plaintiff’s work and that such a statement might give rise to a violation of the individual’s personality rights. The court reiterated the Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence, according to which, insofar as views on or criticism of politicians are concerned, freedom of expression is subject to less restriction. However, in the court’s opinion, the sentence in question contained, in an implicit way, a statement of fact, namely, that E.D.’s personal implications might have led to the omission of a national security investigation, that is, the plaintiff substantially breached his official duties for personal reasons. For the court, the applicant’s statement exceeded the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, which must not be exercised in a manner infringing the personality rights of others, even if the person concerned was a public figure.

The court went on to state that,

“An examination of the truth of the defendant’s statements about the plaintiff’s father falls outside the scope of the present case – and not only because of the separation of the action brought by the plaintiff’s father. In the instant case the court is called on to examine whether or not the defendant’s statement – namely that it was the personal implication of the plaintiff, the competent Minister, that led to the omission of a national security investigation – is a true statement of fact. The decision on this question is independent of the truth of the defendant’s statement about the plaintiff’s father.”

The court concluded that the applicant had failed to prove that E.D. had breached his duties on account of his personal interests.

The Regional Court upheld the first-instance court’s decision in its part concerning the award payable by the applicant. It reduced the procedural fees due and exempted the applicant from having to arrange for a rectification to be broadcast on television.

B.  Relevant domestic law and practice

1.  The Constitution

Article 27

“Members of Parliament may ... address an interpellation or a question to the Government, members of the Government and the Attorney General, concerning any subject belonging in their field of competence.”

Article 39

“(3) Members of the Government may participate in, and ask for the floor at, the sessions of Parliament.”

2.  Rules of Parliamentary Procedure (Házszabály)

Rule 45

“(1) ... members of the Government ... may participate in, and ask for the floor at, the sessions of Parliament.”

Rule 115

“(1) Any person, to whom an interpellation or a question may be addressed according to the Constitution, is under a duty to reply thereto in person or exceptionally through his deputy.”

Rule 119

“(1) In parliamentary sessions, at least sixty minutes per week shall be secured, at a time designated in the agenda, for asking and answering questions directly (an hour of prompt questions).”

3.  The Civil Code

Section 78

“(1) The protection of personality rights shall also include the protection of a good reputation.

(2) In particular, the statement or dissemination of an injurious and untrue fact concerning another person – or the presentation, with untrue implications, of a true fact relating to another person – shall constitute defamation.”

Section 84

“(1) A person whose personality rights have been infringed may bring the following civil law claims, depending on the circumstances of the case:

a) a claim that the court establish that an infringement has taken place;

b) a claim that the infringement be discontinued and the perpetrator be forbidden from further infringements;

c) a claim that the perpetrator be ordered to give satisfaction by making a declaration or in any other appropriate manner and, if necessary, this be made adequately public by, or at the expense of, the perpetrator;

d) a claim that the prejudicial situation be terminated, and that the situation prior to the infringement be restored by, or at the expense of, the perpetrator ...;

e) a claim for damages under the rules of civil law liability.”

4.  The Criminal Code

Section 225 – Abuse of authority

“An official person who, with the aim of causing unlawful disadvantages or benefiting from unlawful advantages, breaches his official duty, transgresses his competence or otherwise misuses his official position, commits a felony and shall be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years.”

5.  Decisions of the Constitutional Court

Decision no. 36/1994. (VI.24.)

“A statement of fact alone may also qualify as an opinion, since the circumstances of a certain statement themselves may reflect an opinion; in other words, the basic constitutional right to freedom of expression is not restricted to value judgments only.”

Decision no. 34/2004. (IX.28.)

“...it is a ‘constitutional requirement’ (alkotmányos követelmény) that the deputies’ non-answerability (képviselői felelősségmentesség) covers their utterances of opinions expressing value judgments which concern their fellow deputies, other persons exercising public authority or public political figures, and have been made in the context of discussions of public matters. In proceedings for the suspension of [a deputy’s] immunity, it is also a pre-eminent constitutional requirement that – in cases where a fact capable of harming the reputation of a public political figure was stated or disseminated, or an expression directly referring to such a fact was used [by the deputy] – the deputy’s immunity be suspended exclusively if he knew that the utterance was untrue in essence.”

6.  Case-law of the Supreme Court

BH2000.293

“A political opinion cannot be examined or qualified by a court from the perspective of whether it is correct or wrong. ... A political opinion in itself does not infringe the personality right ... of a public figure in political life even if the person concerned finds it unjust, false and consequently insulting.”

BH2001.522

“... defamation can be established on the basis of such untrue expressions, adversely affecting the reputation of a person, which contain explicit or implicit statements of fact. ... An expression of opinion, a value judgment concerning the activities of a public figure does not warrant, in itself, the protection of personality rights ... even if it is extreme or exaggerated.”

BH2004.55

“...the defendant alleged in his speech in Parliament that the plaintiff had committed a criminal offence. This is a statement of an untrue fact which infringed the plaintiff’s reputation. ...

...the defendant cannot be dispensed from the objective and subjective sanctions for the infringement of personality rights by relying on the fact that he made the impugned facts public in Parliament, as a deputy. ... A deputy’s immunity does not cover civil liability, and an infringement cannot be excused by the fact that it has been committed by a deputy acting in that capacity.”

7.  Remuneration of Members of Parliament

According to section 1 of Act no. 56 of 1990 on the Remuneration of Members of Parliament, as amended, the deputies’ remuneration consists of basic (alapdíj) and supplementary (pótdíj) remuneration. In 2002, the basic remuneration was five times the basic salary of civil servants (köztisztviselői illetményalap), which was HUF 33,000 under Act no. 133 of 2000 on the 2001 and 2002 Budget of the Republic of Hungary (section 53). Under section 2 of Act no. 56 of 1990, the deputy head of the parliamentary group of a political party was entitled to a 100% supplement, the member of a permanent parliamentary committee to a 40% supplement, and the member of the Budgetary and Financial Permanent Committee to an additional 40% supplement. According to these rules, the applicant was entitled to a global gross remuneration of HUF 462,000.

COMPLAINT

The applicant complains under Article 10 of the Convention that the Hungarian court decisions amounted to a violation of his right to freedom of expression.

THE LAW

The applicant complains that the domestic court decisions infringed the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention, which reads insofar as relevant as follows:

“1.  Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. ...

2.  The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society ... for the protection of the reputation or rights of others ...”

The Government maintain that the incriminated statement was a statement of fact, subject to more stringent limitations in terms of the required proof than a value judgment. Although the applicant’s contention accused E.D. of a criminal offence, namely the abuse of authority (section 225 of the Criminal Code), he did not submit any evidence to the domestic courts. It is irrelevant whether the utterance concerned was made in Parliament or in the media, since the applicant must have foreseen that what he had said in an open parliamentary session would be reported publicly. In these circumstances, the conclusion of the courts – that the impugned statement exceeded the limits of freedom of expression – cannot but be endorsed. Moreover, the award against the applicant cannot be considered disproportionate, since it was less than three months of his net salary.

As regards the “prescribed by law” requirement, the applicant asserts that the formal legal ground for the interference was dubious, since the domestic jurisprudence in this field was neither unequivocal nor foreseeable. In any event, the case-law of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court alone, whether convergent or divergent, should not serve as the legal basis for the measure complained of, Hungary having the continental legal system, rather than one of common law precedent.

Concerning the necessity test, the applicant contends that the incriminated statement did not amount to accusing E.D. of a crime. Rather, its purpose was to highlight the political responsibility for the latter’s failure to investigate a matter involving right-wing extremists. His remark was not a statement of fact but a political opinion with a sufficiently factual basis, made by the applicant in good faith, without being gratuitously offensive or in disregard of obvious facts. Since the applicant was acting in good faith, he should benefit from the same protection under the Convention as journalists do in similar cases. Moreover, referring to the Dichand and Others v. Austria case (no. 29271/95, §§ 42, 43 and 50, 26 February 2002), the applicant argues that, even assuming that his statement was one of fact, it should not impose necessarily, and without further balancing, an unconditional burden of proof on him. Furthermore, he observes that the Government do not dispute that he was reproached exclusively for what he said in Parliament. Parliamentary debates must enjoy complete protection in a democratic society, or else the discussion of public matters in Parliament becomes impossible. As in any session of direct questions and answers, in the instant case the Government and their members had the right and the duty to respond to the applicant’s intervention immediately, which would have afforded the plaintiff appropriate protection.

The applicant further maintains that to submit non-gratuitous political attacks in Parliament against Government members to censorship, deriving from the law on defamation, just because such statements will be widely reported in the press, violates the fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy and governmental accountability. Lastly, he points out that the award he had to pay the plaintiff was the equivalent of six months of the net basic salary of a Member of Parliament.

The Court reiterates that an interference with the applicant’s rights under Article 10 § 1 will infringe the Convention if it does not meet the requirements of paragraph 2 of Article 10. It should therefore be determined whether it was “prescribed by law”, whether it pursued one or more of the legitimate aims set out in that paragraph and whether it was “necessary in a democratic society” in order to achieve those aims.

As to the question of lawfulness, the Court observes that, notwithstanding the applicant’s arguments concerning the heterogeneous nature of the case-law of the domestic courts, the measure complained of was based on sections 78 and 84(1) of the Civil Code. It is therefore satisfied that it was “prescribed by law”. Moreover, it was not disputed by the parties that the interference pursued a legitimate aim, namely the protection of the reputation or rights of others. What is in dispute is whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society.”

The test of “necessity in a democratic society” requires the Court to determine whether the interference complained of corresponded to a “pressing social need”. The Contracting States have a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether such a need exists, but it goes hand in hand with European supervision, embracing both the legislation and the decisions applying it, even those given by an independent court. The Court is therefore empowered to give the final ruling on whether a “restriction” is reconcilable with freedom of expression as protected by Article 10 (see, among many other authorities, Perna v. Italy [GC], no. 48898/99, § 39, ECHR 2003-V; Association Ekin v. France, no. 39288/98, § 56, ECHR 2001-VIII).

The Court’s task in exercising its supervisory function is not to take the place of the competent domestic courts but rather to review under Article 10 the decisions they have taken pursuant to their power of appreciation (see Fressoz and Roire v. France [GC], no. 29183/95, § 45, ECHR 1999-I). This does not mean that the supervision is limited to ascertaining whether the respondent State exercised its discretion reasonably, carefully or in good faith; the Court looks at the interference complained of in the light of the case as a whole, including the content of the statement held against the applicant and its context (see News Verlags GmbH & CoKG v. Austria, no. 31457/96, § 52, ECHR 2000-I).

In particular, the Court must determine whether the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify the interference were “relevant and sufficient”, and whether the measure taken was “proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued” (see Chauvy and Others v. France, no. 64915/01, § 70, ECHR 2004-VI). In doing so, the Court has to satisfy itself that the national authorities, basing themselves on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts, applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10 (see, among many other authorities, Zana v. Turkey, judgment of 25 November 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-VII, pp. 2547-48, § 51).

Applying the above principles to the present case, the Court observes that the Hungarian courts held that the impugned statement as subsequently specified on television was a statement of fact which concerned the plaintiff’s professional activity and thereby gave rise to a violation of the latter’s personality rights. They accepted that, insofar as views on, or criticism of, politicians were concerned, freedom of expression was subject to less restriction. However, in the courts’ view, the incriminated utterance implied an unproven factual statement that the plaintiff’s personal considerations might have resulted in his failure to carry out an investigation required by his official duties. This statement thus exceeded the limits of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, even taking into account that the person concerned was a public figure.

The Court observes that, in essence, the applicant stated that E.D. had failed to institute a necessary investigation into the practices of extreme right-wing groups because the latter’s father had had an affiliation with those groups.

In order to assess the justification of an impugned statement, a distinction needs to be made between statements of fact and value judgments, in that, while the existence of facts can be demonstrated, the truth of value judgments is not susceptible of proof. The requirement to prove the truth of a value judgment is generally impossible to fulfil and infringes freedom of opinion itself, which is a fundamental part of the right secured by Article 10 (see, for example, Lingens v. Austria, judgment of 8 July 1986, Series A no. 103, p. 28, § 46; Oberschlick v. Austria (no. 1), judgment of 23 May 1991, Series A no. 204, p. 27, § 63). The classification of a statement as a fact or as a value judgment is a matter which in the first place falls within the margin of appreciation of the national authorities, in particular the domestic courts (see Prager and Oberschlick v. Austria, judgment of 26 April 1995, Series A no. 313, p. 18, § 36). However, even where a statement amounts to a value judgment, there must exist a sufficient factual basis to support it, failing which it may be excessive (Jerusalem v. Austria, no. 26958/95, § 43, ECHR 2001-II).

The Court confirms that the present case concerns a statement of fact not a value judgment, moreover a statement of fact which was devoid of any truthful basis: the Court observes that it was not ultimately disputed before the domestic courts that the investigation in question had not taken place. Moreover, the issue of the alleged extreme right-wing affiliation of the plaintiff’s father was excluded by those courts from the scope of their examination. As regards the sole remaining issue – namely whether the real motive for the plaintiff’s omission to sanction the investigation in question was his father’s participation in the Hungarista movement – the Court sees no reason to depart from the domestic courts’ view that the applicant’s statement was essentially factual. Such an utterance was, for the Court, susceptible of proof, which the applicant did not offer the domestic courts.

The Court finds that the accusation levelled by the applicant’s allegation was serious. It is not wholly convinced by the District Court’s concern about the potential detriment to the plaintiff’s political credibility and the reduction of his political reputation in his future voters’ eyes. However, the Court shares the domestic courts’ view that the applicant’s utterances were capable of undermining public confidence in the integrity of the plaintiff as a high ranking executive officer, accusing him of deliberately neglecting his duties for personal reasons, all the more so since the applicant implied this reason might have been the plaintiff’s loyalty towards his father who he alleged belonged to a movement with Nazi sympathies.

It is true that freedom of political debate is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society which prevails throughout the Convention. The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician rather than a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lay themselves open to close scrutiny of their every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and they must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance. No doubt Article 10 § 2 protects the reputation of others – that is to say, of all individuals – and this protection extends to politicians too, even when they are not acting in their private capacity; but such protection must be weighed against the public interest in the open discussion of political issues (Lingens v. Austria, op.cit., p. 26, § 42). In the Court’s view, this also holds true a fortiori in the situation where a politician is criticised by another one, especially if that criticism is being voiced in the privileged arena of Parliament (cf. A. v. the United Kingdom, no. 35373/97, §§ 76-89, ECHR 2002-X). However, in the present case, the applicant did not limit himself to attacking his opponent in Parliament (cf. Cordova v. Italy (no. 1), no. 40877/98, §§ 57 to 66, ECHR 2003-I; Cordova v. Italy (no. 2), no. 45649/99, §§ 58 to 67, ECHR 2003-I (extracts)). Indeed, his statement during the parliamentary session was rather elusive, and the identity of his target only became clear afterwards with his further explanation in a television broadcast. The Court considers that such public insinuations no longer benefited from the privilege afforded to parliamentary debate.

In assessing the necessity of the interference, it is also important to examine the way in which the relevant domestic authorities dealt with the case. A perusal of the Hungarian courts’ decisions reveals that the courts recognised that the present case involved a conflict between the right to freedom of expression and protection of the reputation of the rights of others, a conflict the Court is satisfied they resolved by weighing the relevant considerations in a manner reconcilable with the principles embodied in Article 10 of the Convention. Thus, the Regional Court recognised that the applicant’s statement originally aimed at attacking a political opponent in a parliamentary debate, in which context his freedom of expression was subject to less restriction. However, having balanced the relevant considerations, that court found no basis for the applicant’s serious allegations against the plaintiff, particularly as he did not submit any relevant proof.

On the basis of the various elements above and having regard to the nature and degree of the accusation, the Court sees no cause to depart from the Regional Court’s finding that the applicant lacked a sufficient factual basis for the allegation that E.D. might have breached his official duties for personal reasons. The national authorities were thus entitled to consider that there was a “pressing social need” to take action under the applicable law in relation to that allegation (see, mutatis mutandis, the aforementioned case of Chauvy and Others v. France, §§ 70, 76-77).

The nature and severity of the sanction imposed are also factors to be taken into account when assessing the proportionality of the interference under Article 10 of the Convention (see, for example, Ceylan v. Turkey [GC], no. 23556/94, § 37, ECHR 1999-IV; Tammer v. Estonia, no. 41205/98, § 69, ECHR 2001-I; Lešník v. Slovakia, no. 35640/97, § 63, ECHR 2003-IV).

In the instant case the applicant was sued before the civil courts (rather than the criminal courts) and was ordered to arrange for a rectification in the press and pay damages in an amount which was less than twice the gross monthly salary to which he was entitled at the time. The Court does not find these sanctions excessive in the circumstances (cf. Independent News and Media and Independent Newspapers Ireland Limited v. Ireland, no. 55120/00, § 132, ECHR 2005-... (extracts)).

Having regard to the foregoing, the Court considers that the domestic courts’ finding against the applicant and the sanctions imposed were not disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, and that the reasons given by the domestic courts to justify those measures were relevant and sufficient. The interference with the applicant’s exercise of his right to freedom of expression could therefore reasonably be regarded by the national authorities as necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation and rights of others.

It follows that the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention to the present case should be discontinued and that the application should be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court, by a majority,

Declares the application inadmissible.

S. Dollé J.-P. Costa 
 Registrar President

1Extreme right-wing groups with strong chauvinist tendencies, apologists of the Hungarian arrow-cross movement, which was the Hungarian equivalent of the Nazis during World War II.


2 According to information available on the Internet, on 29 May 2003 the Pest County Regional Court finally established that the applicant had infringed the plaintiff’s ‘personality rights’ and ordered him to pay him damages, since the applicant could not prove that the plaintiff was a member of the Hungarista movement.


3 Altogether, approximately 3,240 euros (“EUR”)


KELLER v. HUNGARY DECISION


KELLER v. HUNGARY DECISION