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Jurisprudence of Tolerance: Hate Speech, Article 17 and Theory of Democracy in the European Convention on Human Rights

In: International Human Rights Law Review
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What does the protection or prohibition of a speech tell us about the tripartite relationship between political power, democracy and rights? This question has somehow underscored the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in hate speech cases for more than a half century. We argue that this question has invariably placed the Court in an uneasy position, which is, choosing between a democracy empowered by unlimited freedom of speech, but with recurrent social tensions, and a democracy with rather strict hate speech laws, but at ease with different segments of population. That said, the jurisprudence of the European Court outlines a pattern by which to identify a specific direction for the evolution of rights and democracy. This article considers this pattern. Not only does this article, examine the pattern in the Court’s and the Commission’s jurisprudence, but it also argues that this pattern unfolds a subtle presence of Hobbesian and Lockean theories of political power and the limits in its midst. By invoking this presence, we indicate how the debate in the jurisprudence of the European Court has shifted from the language of protecting democracy to that of rights.

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