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Strasbourg court rejects Nazi swastika blog case

Lewis Sanders IV
April 5, 2018

A German man took his case to the court after being convicted for posting a picture of Heinrich Himmler. But the court argued that German authorities had not undermined freedom of expression given the country's history.

European Court for Human Rights
Image: picture-alliance/AA/M. Yalcin

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday rejected a complaint filed by a German man after he was convicted for posting a picture of Nazi war criminal Heinrich Himmler in SS uniform bearing a swastika.

The Strasbourg court "found that the domestic authorities had provided relevant and sufficient reasons for interfering with Mr. Nix's right to freedom of expression and had not gone beyond their room for maneuver in the case," said the court's ruling. It said that German authorities had not undermined freedom of expression given the country's history.

The court said the 54-year-old man must have known about German legislation that criminalized the use of Nazi symbols since he had been convicted before for publishing an image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a swastika armband and bearing a Hitler-like moustache.

Read more: Is it illegal to call someone a Nazi?

However, the court noted that Nix had "not intended to spread Nazi ideology and might have thought he was contributing to a debate of public interest." 

Scraping off Nazi propaganda

'Eye-catching device'

In 2015, a Munich court convicted Nix of using "symbols of unconstitutional organizations," arguing that he had not sufficiently distanced himself from Nazi ideology and used the picture as an "eye-catching device." He received a five-month suspended sentence.

Nix appealed to higher courts, saying the blog post aimed at criticizing discrimination against children with migrant backgrounds in German schools and employment offices. However, his appeal efforts were rejected.

Read more: Are Germany's anti-racism initiatives achieving enough?

He took his case to the ECHR after Germany's Constitutional Court refused to further examine his case, invoking Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression.

In Germany, Nazi symbols are considered illegal under legislation that outlaws "symbols of unconstitutional organizations." There is no exhaustive list of criminalized symbols nor does the law name any. However, under the law, such symbols may be shown exclusively for educational purposes.