Can freedom of expression be restricted?

Freedom of expression in Germany: is it in danger?

Freedom of expression: One of the most important basic rights - clearly secured by the Basic Law. Nevertheless, many people in Germany regularly complain, and recently louder and louder, that they are no longer allowed to speak their minds openly. That there is a dictatorship of opinion, sometimes there is also accusation of censorship. Also, some people do not seem to be clear about the difference between exemptions from freedom of expression and statements relevant to criminal law. We too are regularly accused of suppressing freedom of expression. Here some examples:

We are happy to take the opportunity to explain in detail what freedom of expression is all about. And why it doesn't mean that you can simply say or write anything without restriction.

Freedom of expression, the fundamental right

The situation is clearly stated in Article 5 of the Basic Law: Every person in Germany can freely express or write their opinion - without the threat of censorship. But what is actually meant by opinion - and what is not? An opinion is the subjective point of view or the personal impression. Nobody has to agree to everything that happens in Germany and everyone can and is allowed to criticize openly without the police arresting, torturing or even killing them. Something like that happens regularly in countries where freedom of expression has been undermined.

The limits of what can be said

The limits of what can be said are also laid down in the Basic Law: Article 5 continues: “These rights find their limits in the provisions of general laws”. These barriers can be found e.g. B. in Article 130 (sedition) of the Criminal Code. You are, so to speak, the “boss” of those who hate them. It says that a person disturbs the public peace if they

"Incites hatred against a national, racial, religious or ethnic group, against parts of the population or against an individual because of his or her membership of a specified group or part of the population, calls for violent or arbitrary measures or promotes human dignity another attacks by insulting, maliciously, contemptuously or slandering a specified group, parts of the population or an individual because of his membership of a specified group or part of the population ”.

An example:

Someone can have a negative attitude towards sea rescue. Such an attitude is the personal right of every person. But be careful: now it's getting tricky!

The criticism of the sea rescue (which is mostly marked as an opinion) MUST get along without discriminatory generalizations and disparaging prejudices against refugees. Because as soon as one of both is true, it is no longer an opinion, but z. B. openly racist - thus justiciable in an emergency. Because when we discriminate against people on the basis of origin, appearance, religion or sexual orientation, we run into them Limits to Freedom of Expression. There is even a risk of up to three years in prison. A court will decide whether it comes to that.

The offenses against personal honor

But even aside from sedition, not everything is a protected opinion that is declared as such by some authors. We are all guaranteed the protection of our general personal rights in Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law. That is why freedom of expression finds its limits where personal rights, which are equally worthy of protection, are violated - e. B. of the offenses against honor. They include insult, defamation, and defamation. Some may be surprised to learn that they cannot simply insult other people in the most violent way because it is their “free opinion” and thus their “right”, but that's how it is. In case of doubt, a court will also decide here.

So is freedom of expression restricted in Germany?

No! Anyone who manages to express their own opinion without insulting or discriminating against others (§§ 186, 187 StGB) does not have to worry about this question. However, who openly other z. B. humiliated for racist, anti-Semitic, trans-hostile, homophobic or sexist motives does not express his opinion, but makes himself liable to prosecution.

Is freedom of expression still threatened?

Yes - through the so-called Silencing. For years, forms of digital violence and hatspeech have been a strategic means of attacking members of marginalized groups in particular and pushing them out of the public discourse. Who z. B. is openly positioned on topics such as feminism, climate change or migration silenced with targeted Hatestorms and pushed out of the net by threats tries. The attacks often come from right-wing or extreme right-wing troll armies that organize themselves in a targeted manner. This is proven by numerous studies. * If people can no longer speak their minds out of fear of hatred and agitation, it is an attack on our freedom of expression. Here, too, the following applies: The initiators of such silencing measures may freely express their opinion - like everyone else - as long as they do not break the barriers of Article 130 or violate the personal honor of others. Since they do this regularly, legal recourse against them is an important means of protecting freedom of expression and democracy. This is what HateAid is committed to.

* u. a. Research report on hate online: The creeping attack on our democracy by Daniel Geschke, Anja Klaßen, Matthias Quent, Christoph Richter and
Hatred at the push of a button. Right-wing extremist troll factories and the ecosystem of coordinated hate campaigns online by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and #ichbinhier.