Brussels Court of Appeal upholds right to satire

Brussels Court of Appeal upholds right to satire
Credit: FOD Justice

The Court of Appeal issued a civil judgement on Monday affirming the right to satire, a basic right that remains poorly defined by case law in Belgium. The court ruling also allows someone, for example, to be called an anti-Semite, even if they have not been given a criminal conviction for the offence.

The Court issued the ruling in a case against two online “polemicists”. The case was brought forward by far-left activist Michel Collon, who had appealed for the two individuals to be punished for violating his “honour” and “reputation.” Collon sought legal action against blogger Marcel Sel after the latter accused Collon of an “anti-Semitic conspiracy”, without the basis of substantiated facts.

Sel defended his case by invoking a series of declarations made by Collon, in which he claimed that Western media had been subjugated to the pro-Isreali lobby. He also suggested that the responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks lay with France's former foreign minister Laurent Fabius. Collon defended the comments by stressing the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Israeli politics.

The court upheld during the proceedings that “the term anti-semetic is not reserved for those who have been criminally convicted for such acts”. It added that Sel “could perfectly consider that the positions taken by Mr Collon hid anti-semetism and could lead to dangerous abuses.”

Belgium has clear laws on libel but case law regarding satire, accusations of prejudice, and other perceived offences are not nearly so well-defined. Some groups evoke their right to “mockery and satire” to conduct acts which may be perceived as offensive. The polemic Aalst Carnival used the legal basis to defend blackface and anti-semitic costumes.

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