The European Union’s top human rights court (ECHR) ruled last week that online videos considered by the Belgian courts to be Islamist hate speech were not protected under free speech. The court ruled in the case of Fouad Belkacem, a Belgian national currently in jail for his activities as the leader of Sharia4Belgium, an organization banned for recruiting foreign fighters to take part in the conflicts throughout the Middle East. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Mr. Belkacem’s argument that his comments in his online videos fell within his freedoms of expression and religion were not justified.
In his videos, Mr. Belkacem had called on his viewers to “overpower non-Muslims, teach them a lesson and fight them”, which the court called “markedly hateful” and “vehement”. The ECHR upheld the 2013 decision of Belgium’s top court, according to which Mr. Belkacem had incited others to violence against non-Muslims and to discriminate on the basis of religion. Mr. Belkacem is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence after he was convicted in 2015 of leading a terrorist group. Belgium continues to deal with a high number of its nationals who have made their way to Syria and Iraq to join the extremist groups.
Amidst the rising number of EU citizens joining the ranks of jihadists, the EU hopes that technology and social media companies will step in. Last month, Brussels called for the industry to boost its efforts to police its own platforms. Days later, major social media companies Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft joined their forces and announced that they were launching a global working group to deepen their cooperation to remove terrorist content from the Internet.