In Zemmour v France  ECHR 1130 [in French], the applicant, Éric Zemmour, had been convicted of inciting discrimination and religious hatred against the French Muslim community, on the basis of statements made on a television show in 2016. He alleged a violation of his right to freedom of expression, contrary to Article 10 ECHR.
Éric Zemmour is a well-known French political journalist. On 16 September 2016, he appeared as a guest on the television chat show C à vous to plug his book, Un quinquennat pour rien – “A five-year term for nothing”, the introduction to which was headed “La France au défi de l’Islam” – “France and the challenge of Islam”. As a result of some of his statements, proceedings were issued against him in the Paris tribunal correctionnel under s.24(7) of the Freedom of the Press Act of 29 July 1881, which made it an offence to incite discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or group on grounds of origin or of membership or non-membership of a particular ethnicity, nation, race or religion .
The case against Mr Zemmour concerned five statements in particular:
(1) “No” in answer to the question “whether there are Muslims in France who live in peace, who don’t take the Quran literally and are fully integrated”.
(2) “Those who wage jihad are seen by all Muslims, whether they say so or not, as good Muslims –they’re warriors, soldiers of Islam.”
(3) [Interviewer] “Terrorism is apocalyptic” – [Zemmour] “No, it’s not terrorism, it’s jihadism. So it’s Islam” – [Interviewer] “The way you equate jihadism and Islam” – [Zemmour] “It’s the same to me.”
(4) “For 30 years, we’ve been experiencing an invasion, a colonisation, which is bringing about a conflagration.” “In countless neighbourhoods, on the outskirts of French cities, where many young women are veiled – that’s also Islam, that’s also jihad, that’s also the fight to Islamise a territory which is not, which is in the ordinary course a non-Islamised land, a land of infidels. It’s the same thing, it’s territorial occupation.”
(5) “I think they [ie Muslims living in France] need to be given a choice between Islam and France”, followed by: “So, if they’re French, they have to – and this is hard because Islam doesn’t lend itself to this – they have to let go of what their religion is.” .
On June 2017, the tribunal correctionnel found that the five statements in question fell within the definition of an offence under s.24 of the 1881 Act and fined him 5,000 euros for inciting discrimination, hatred or violence against a group on grounds of their origin or membership of a religion . In 2018, the Paris Cour d’Appel reversed the judgment in part, holding that only statements (4) and (5) could be characterised as “inciting discrimination and religious hatred” and reduced the fine to 3,000 euros . On appeal, the Cour de Cassation dismissed his claim that his conviction was in violation of Article 10 .
The Court acknowledged that Mr Zemmour’s contentious remarks were part of a debate of general interest ; however, they were not outside the limits laid down in paragraph 2 of Article 10. The question, therefore, was whether the domestic courts had correctly assessed the impugned statements as “hate speech” and, if so, whether the sanction imposed was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued .
The Court considered that Mr Zemmour’s remarks did not enjoy enhanced protection under Article 10 and concluded that the French authorities enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation in restricting them . They were also delivered on prime-time television: Mr Zemmour was a journalist and a pundit known for his polemical outbursts, and although he had been speaking on the show as an author, he had not been exempt from the “duties and responsibilities” of a journalist and had been fully capable of measuring his words and assessing their consequences . Further, his remarks had not been confined to criticism of Islam but had been an attack on the Muslim community as a whole and harmful to social cohesion. .
The reasons given by the domestic courts for his conviction were sufficient and relevant to justify the impugned interference under Article 10 , and the fine imposed had not been disproportionate . The interference with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression had been necessary in a democratic society to protect the rights of others .
There had not been any violation of Article 10 .