The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) awarded compensation to László Tőkés after it found on Tuesday that Romanian authorities had breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding freedom of expression by imposing sanctions on the Transylvanian Hungarian politician because he displayed a Szekler flag at his private office building in Nagyvárad (Oradea) without asking for permission to do so.
“It is a big gratification for us that the European Court of Human Rights decided in favor of us regarding our complaint, strengthening freedom of speech and the right to display flags and motivating the Romanian state to better orient itself to European standards and not forbid the display of our flags.”
– said László Tőkés at a joint press conference with his attorney Előd Kincses for Hungarian and Romanian media, one day after the court’s decision on Wednesday.
László Tőkés, who had been a Member of the European Parliament between 2007 and 2019, displayed a Szekler flag in June 2014 on the balcony of his office in Nagyvárad and added a Partium territory flag as well in 2015. After the Bihar (Bihor) County Court’s final judgment in November 2015 labeled the Szekler flag an advertising banner, local police called Tőkés to remove the Szekler and the Partium territory flags and issued minor-offense warnings against him in both cases. Following these actions, László Tőkés turned to the European Court of Human Rights in June 2016.
In its decision, which is available only in French, the Strasbourg Court unanimously declared that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding freedom of expression had been violated: “The court […] declares unanimously that the applications are admissible; holds, by five votes to two, that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention; holds unanimously that the present judgment constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage suffered by the applicant.”
The Strasbourg Court concluded that there had been a procedural violation, as the Romanian court did not give sufficient reasons for its decision and failed to examine in depth all the relevant circumstances of the case. According to the ECHR, the Romanian court’s decisions about the removal of the Szekler and Partium territory flags […] did not contain enough information regarding the reason behind the ruling. Due to the infringement, the court called upon Romania to repay Tőkés’s legal costs.
In its decision, however, the Strasbourg Court also rejected Tőkés’s claim that the interference with his right to freedom of expression had lacked any legal basis and accepted that such interference had been aimed at protecting the rights of others, namely “to ensure that the built environment was coherent, harmonious, safe and healthy, in order to protect natural and man-made assets, preserve the quality of the landscape and conform to the required standards in terms of building quality.”
Title image: László Tőkés displaying the Szekler Flag on the balcony of his office in 2014 in Nagyvárad. (Photo: Tőkés László Sajtóirodája Facebook)