Dutch Rights Group Submits Amicus Brief in 'Racist' Tweet Case

The Public Interest Litigation Project of the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (PILP-NJCM) has offered an amicus curiae brief, or opinion, to the Supreme Court about the freedom of speech in the case of Lennart Feijen.

Lennart Feijen sent out a tweet during a city council meeting in which he called his fellow city council member Hilbrand Nawijn a racist. The Hague court found it unlawful that Feijen, as a council member for the SP (Socialists), called ex-minister Nawijn a "racist" on social media and convicted Feijen for defamation.

"This violation is especially severe because of the fact that anyone who uses social media could have come to known about the insulting remarks of the suspect," the court held.

The PILP-NJCM finds it important that human rights are adequately assessed. In the letter, PILP-NJCM, as a "friend of the Supreme Court," describes the assessment of the freedom of speech, protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in context of the jurisprudence of the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR).

According to PILP-NJCM, it is important that the court pays attention to the question of whether Feijen's conviction is in line with Article 10 of the ECHR.

'You are a racist'

Feijen's tweet was sent in reaction to a debate on whether or not a special Islamic primary school should be established, with Nawijn stating that he did not think that these type of schools would contribute to students' integration into Dutch society. In reaction to a question by Feijen, it appeared that Nawijn meant only schools with an Islamic foundation, not schools with a generally religious foundation.

Therefore, Feijen concluded that Nawijn's conduct was discriminatory. On social media, Feijen clarified shortly after that he wanted to point out the problem of "discrimination of an entire religious community by the racist Nawijn."

Feijen was acquitted by the lower court, but later convicted by the higher court for defamation (Article 266 of the Dutch Criminal Code). He received a conditional penalty. The case has lead to a great amount of commotion and attention in the media.

Free speech for politicians

In its letter, the PILP-NJCM has, in the context of the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, elaborated on the political context of the remarks, the fact that Nawijn and Feijen are politicians and the qualification of whether the remarks were "unnecessarily offensive."

The PILP-NJCM believes that it is essential that the Supreme Court pays attention to whether Feijen's conviction was in accordance with Article 10 of the ECHR.