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Prison for criminal defamation in 11 european countries, IPI says

Germany revealed as leading user of criminal defamation laws among 18 countries surveyed. Data on Italy have not been received

From the IPI website – Germany towers over its European Union neighbours when it comes to the number of instances in which criminal defamation laws are applied, the surprising results of an IPI special investigation show.

The year 2013 saw nearly 22,000 criminal convictions for insult, defamation or slander in Germany, according to official statistics, more than 29 times as many as in the country with the second-highest number, Portugal. Germany’s place atop the rankings holds firm even when adjusted for population: Germany’s tally of 27.11 convictions per 100,000 residents is nearly four times as great as Portugal, which again holds the second position with an average of 7.15.

IPI has analysed official data on criminal justice for 18 EU countries (see following chart) to provide an unprecedented, detailed picture of the use of criminal defamation laws in Europe. The investigation confirms that criminal defamation and insult laws continue to be actively applied in Europe. In 2013, the primary year for which data were collected for comparative purposes, there were criminal convictions for defamation and insult in all but two of the 18 countries surveyed. The exceptions were Denmark and Latvia.

Moreover, the investigation shows that persons convicted of criminal defamation or insult face a very real threat of imprisonment. A startling 1,087 prison sentences for insult, defamation, or slander were handed down in Germany in 2013 – 369 of which were unconditional. Greece, however, is the biggest jailer for defamation per capita, with 6.52 sentences per 100,000 residents. Germany is a more distant third, with an average of 1.34. In total, 11 of the 18 countries surveyed handed convicted offenders prison sentences for defamation in 2013.

Results reveal little correlation between geography and the application of criminal defamation laws. Of the seven countries that show more than three convictions per 100,000 residents in 2013, two are northern European (Germany and Finland), two are southern European (Portugal and Greece*) and three are central European (Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia).

The data collected shows that countries that apply criminal defamation laws more frequently are also more likely to issue prison sentences: of the seven mentioned in the preceding paragraph, Greece*, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary and Finland (in that order) top the list of issuers of prison sentences per capita. On this measure, Portugal falls to number eight, while Croatia drops off the list, insofar as Croatian law no longer allows the possibility of imprisonment in defamation cases.

Not all data sets analysed by IPI differentiate between suspended prison sentences and those that are unconditional, i.e., prison sentences that must be served. However, the data for Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Slovenia showed the presence of at least one unconditional prison sentence. Germany reported 369.

The investigation’s findings are based exclusively on official statistical data provided by government ministries or national statistical agencies. In some cases, the necessary information was publicly available; in others, it was provided to IPI by official bodies upon request. While a total of 23 EU countries maintain criminal defamation and insult laws relating to private persons, data could not be obtained for five countries – Italy, France, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Malta – which, as a result, were not included in the investigation.

*Data for Greece refer to the year 2010, the last year in which the relevant statistics are available, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, which provided IPI data on Greece upon request.

Read on the IPI website

Leggi in italiano

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