European human rights court to rule on extremist online videos

Fouad Belkacem [RTL/YouTube]

Europe’s top human rights court will rule on Thursday (19 July) whether online videos considered by a Belgian court to be Islamist hate speech should be allowed under free speech provisions.

Fouad Belkacem is a Belgian national currently imprisoned for his activities as the head of Sharia4Belgium, an organisation banned for recruiting foreign fighters to participate in militant activities in the Middle East.

The European Court of Human Rights will evaluate Belkacem’s argument that his remarks in a series of videos on online platform YouTube fall within his freedoms of expression and religion and were not meant to incite violence.

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In 2013, Belgium’s top court found that, far from expressing his views, Belkacem had incited others to discriminate on the basis of faith and to violence against non-Muslims.

Separately, Belkacem was handed a 12-year prison sentence in 2015 for founding Sharia4Belgium, in the country’s largest trial of militants.

Belgium continues to grapple with a comparatively high number of nationals who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Jihadist groups.

As more cases of online radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens emerge, the EU expects tech and social media companies to stem the tide.

In June, EU heads of state called for the industry to step up its efforts to police its own platforms.

Days later, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft responded with the announcement of a Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, planning to research counter-speech possibilities, and share technical solutions in order to remove content faster.

The ECHR’s ruling is expected at 10 AM local time (0800 GMT).

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