11 countries where you should think twice about insulting someone

(Image: Bplanet/Shutterstock)

(Image: Bplanet/Shutterstock)

Croatia’s new criminal code has introduced “humiliation” as an offence — and it is already being put to use. Slavica Lukić, a journalist with newspaper Jutarnji list is likely to end up in court for writing that the Dean of the Faculty of Law in Osijek accepted a bribe. As Index reported earlier this week, via its censorship mapping tool mediafreedom.ushahidi.com: “For the court, it is of little importance that the information is correct – it is enough for the principal to state that he felt humbled by the publication of the news.”

These kinds of laws exist across the world, especially under the guise of protecting against insult. The problem, however, is that such laws often exist for the benefit of leaders and politicians. And even when they are more general, they can be very easily manipulated by those in positions of power to shut down and punish criticism. Below are some recent cases where just this has happened.


On 4 June this year, security forces in Tajikistan detained a 30-year-old man on charges of “insulting” the country’s president. According to local press, he was arrested after posting “slanderous” images and texts on Facebook.


Eight people were jailed in Iran in May, on charges including blasphemy and insulting the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Facebook. They also were variously found guilty of propaganda against the ruling system and spreading lies.


Also in May this year, Goa man Devu Chodankar was investigated by police for posting criticism of new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook. The incident was reported the police someone close to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under several different pieces of legislation. One makes it s “a punishable offence to send messages that are offensive, false or created for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience”.


Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist and editor Bheki Makhubu were arrested in March this year, and face charges of “scandalising the judiciary” and “contempt of court”. The charges are based on two articles, written by Maseko and Makhubu and published in the independent magazine the Nation, which strongly criticised Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, levels of corruption and the lack of impartiality in the country’s judicial system.


In February this year, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested on charges of inciting violence in the country’s ongoing anti-government protests. Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco said at the time that the government of President Nicholas Maduro had made no valid case against Lopez and merely justified his imprisonment through “insults and conspiracy theories.”


Student Honest Makasi was in November 2013 charged with insulting President Robert Mugabe. He allegedly called the president “a dog” and accused him of “failing to do what he promised during campaigns” and lying to the people. He appeared in court around the same time the country’s constitutional court criticised continued use of insult laws. And Makasi is not the only one to find himself in this position — since 2010, over 70 Zimbabweans have been charged for “undermining” the authority of the president.


In March 2013, Egypt’s public prosecutor, appointed by former President Mohamed Morsi, issued an arrest warrant for famous TV host and comedian Bassem Youssef, among others. The charges included “insulting Islam” and “belittling” the later ousted Morsi. The country’s regime might have changed since this incident, but Egyptian authorities’ chilling effect on free expression remains — Youssef recently announced the end of his wildly popular satire show.


A recent defamation law imposes hefty fines and prison sentences for anyone convicted of online slander or insults in Azerbaijan. In August 2013, a court prosecuted a former bank employee who had criticised the bank on Facebook. He was found guilty of libel and sentenced to 1-year public work, with 20% of his monthly salary also withheld.


In July 2013, a man was convicted and ordered to pay a fine or face nine month in prison, for calling Malawi’s President Joyce Banda “stupid” and a “failure”. Angry that his request for a new passport was denied by the department of immigration, Japhet Chirwa “blamed the government’s bureaucratic red tape on the ‘stupidity and failure’ of President Banda”. He was arrested shortly after. 


While the penalties were softened somewhat in a 2009 amendment to the criminal code, libel remains a criminal offence in Poland. In September 2012, the creator of Antykomor.pl, a website satirising President Bronisław Komorowski, was “sentenced to 15 months of restricted liberty and 600 hours of community service for defaming the president”.

This article was published on June 6, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

Romania criminalises insult

See statement from Romanian civil society groups:

Attacks on freedom of expression: Insult and libel recriminalized

The signatory organizations condemn the anti-democratic practices adopted and exercised by the current parliamentary majority and publicly ask the Romanian President not to promulgate the law through which, surreptitiously, the offenses of libel and insult were reintroduced in the Criminal Code.

In 2006, the Parliament decided to repeal the offenses of insult and libel. In 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled that the offenses of libel and insult are not repealed, then, in 2010, the High Court of Cassation and Justice has ruled that the offenses of insult and libel are abolished, and in 2013 the Constitutional Court ruled again that the offenses of libel and insult are not repealed.

OSCE congratulated Romania after insult and libel were decriminalized. This decriminalization also increased the rating of the country in relevant international rankings, such as those of Reporters Without Borders.

An old bill 2011 (Pl-x 680/2011) proposed the repeal of a single article of the Criminal Code, namely Article 74/1. Under very suspicious circumstances, this bill was radically changed the night before being adopted by the Chamber of Deputies during the plenum of 10 December 2013 (“The International Human Rights Day”) by introducing, among other provisions, the offenses of libel and insult.

This decision, taken without any public consultation made useless ten years of efforts made ​​by the society for the decriminalization of insult and libel. It eliminates Romania from the  democracies who reject the idea that a man can be imprisoned for his words.

We remind politicians that the decisions of the Constitutional Court quoted as a pretext for introducing the offenses of insult and libel in the Criminal Code must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the ECHR – which have the force of law in Romania. Imposing an obligation on defamation to be criminally sanctioned is not supported by any article of the European Convention on Human Rights and of any judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.

On the other hand, due to the haste with which the amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted, another obsolete article was passed, namely Article 207 – burden of proof. This article is in manifest contradiction with ECHR jurisprudence, demanding those who make a statement to prove the absolute truth of the facts narrated, proof impossible in many situations, especially when it comes to journalistic investigations in complex cases. According to the jurisprudence of the ECHR (see case Dalban v. Romania, for example), those who make a statement, even false / exaggerated, cannot be penalized in any way if they prove the existence of a reasonable factual basis for their statement.

It is imperative that Articles 205-207, which recriminalize insult and libel be removed from the Criminal Code. The current form of the law is a serious assault on press freedom and freedom of expression in general.

The signatory organizations ask the Romanian President not to promulgate this law through which, clandestinely, the offenses of libel and insult were reintroduced in the Criminal Code.

Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee


Association for Technology and Internet

Center for Independent Journalism


Bahrain: Court fines daughter of opposition activist

A prominent opposition activist has been fined for insulting a government employee in Bahrain. Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for over three months, was arrested last month after protesting for the release of her father during the Bahrain Grand Prix. Despite being fined 200 dinars ($530), Zainab al-Khawaja remains imprisoned on the charge of attempting to stage a protest. If convicted, the activist faces another charge or imprisonment. The case will be heard on 24 May.

Thailand: Facebookers who ‘like’ anti-monarchy groups could face trial

A Thai Government minister has warned that Facebook users who ‘like’  or ‘share’ pages which denigrate the monarchy could face prosecution. The warning from information technology minister, Anudith Nakornthap, follows the sentencing of a 61 year old man to 20 years in prison for sending text messages deemed insulting to the country’s queen. Ampon Tangnoppakul was accused of sending four text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy in May 2010. The laws against lèse-majesté (insulting a monarch) in Thailand are the most severe in the world – even repeating the details of an alleged offence is illegal.