Strasbourg has denied a British man’s request to have public nudity declared a human right. The court has ruled that UK authorites have the power to repeatedly arrest "Naked Rambler" Stephen Gough.
On Tuesday, Europe's high court in Strasbourg ruled that Stephen Gough's legal woes had come about as the result of conduct that could prove "alarming and morally and otherwise offensive" to others, rather than through repression by UK authorities. Gough, a 55-year-old former Royal Marine nicknamed the "Naked Rambler," has twice walked the length of Britain nude to protest laws requiring the wearing of clothes. His activism has frequently been interrupted - by more than 30 arrests, court appearances and jail time.
"The applicant's case is troubling, since his intransigence has led to his spending a substantial period of time in prison for what is, in itself, usually a relatively trivial offense," the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday. "However, the applicant's imprisonment is the consequence of his repeated violation of the criminal law in full knowledge of the consequences."
The United Kingdom has no law against public nudity. However, authorities have found Gough in violation of regulations against indecent exposure or behavior likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress."
Gough called the judgment disappointing. "I have no choice but to continue," he said.
The case represents a rare victory in Strasbourg for UK authorities. In summer, the European Court of Human Rights had ruled against the United Kingdom in a case dealing with the voting rights of prisoners. In 2013, the court had found Downing Street's policy of lifetime prison sentences in violation of EU rights law.
'Otherwise slavish conformity'
Gough has served multiple sentences for appearing nude in public places, including an airplane - and even British courts that have ruled against him. Authorities arrested him more than 30 times between 2003 and 2012, the European Court of Human Rights noted.
The ruling by Europe's highest rights court leaves Gough with few options
"I was brought up to believe I lived in a country that celebrated eccentricity and difference," Gough said Tuesday. He added that such diversity brings a "variety and color to the otherwise slavish conformity that can feel depressive, constricting and sometimes just downright boring: Without the freedom to express our individuality and uniqueness in our own way, something inside us dies."
Gough will remain in prison on charges of antisocial behavor after Strasbourg's seven-judge panel found that authorities had not "unjustifiably interfered with his exercise of freedom of expression." Earlier this year, police retook him into custody for walking out of a Scottish prison wearing only his socks and shoes and carrying the rest of his clothes in plastic bags.
mkg/es (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)