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European countries have a more restrictive interpretation of free speech than the US in some regards, e.g. many criminalize Holocaust denial etc.

Are there some European countries whose laws (in that respect) most closely resemble the Russian law that prohibits "discrediting the armed forces"?

These articles set punishments for making statements against the Russian Armed Forces or for calling for sanctions. A "discrediting" of the armed forces, including calls that their use was not in the interests of the Russian Federation, carried large fines for natural and juridical persons (article 20.3.3) and up to five years imprisonment (article 280.3). The dissemination of "unreliable information" about the armed forces and its operation could be punished with up to fifteen years imprisonment (article 207.3). Calls to impose sanctions against Russia, Russian citizens or Russian legal entities carried a large fine (article 20.3.4) and up to 3 years imprisonment (article 284.2).

(I had a bit here about anti-sanctions laws too, but please no more answers about that here, as it turned out to be a huge topic.)

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    I thought the Russian laws are against telling the truth about their “armed forces”?
    – gnasher729
    Feb 27 at 23:30
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    The Russian laws are outlawing contradicting the government position. While the law says "unreliable information", the intention and interpretation is "contradicting the official position". The official position may or may not be the truth, but contradicting it is a crime.
    – littleadv
    Feb 28 at 0:15
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    @littleadv: that's the 2nd clause with 15 years sentence. I'm asking about the first one, which is 5 years for "discrediting"; that one is rather more broadly phrased. Feb 28 at 0:20
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    As to laws forbidding calls for sanctions, here's one example - although this is a civil prohibition, not a criminal.
    – littleadv
    Feb 28 at 0:25
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    My fault, the sites were reachable only as http, not https. No.31-FZ (look for number 11), No.32-FZ.
    – ccprog
    Feb 28 at 0:51

4 Answers 4

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Belarus.

Reuters (2023-03-10):

Under another change approved by Lukashenko on Thursday, anybody found guilty of "discrediting" the Belarusian armed forces will face a jail term.

The Guardian (2023-03-09):

The bill that Lukashenko, 68, signed on Thursday also introduced punishment for “propaganda of terrorism, discrediting the armed forces and paramilitary units and breaching the rules to protect state secrets”, mimicking the repressive legislation of Belarus’s main ally, Russia.

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    While technically not part of Russia, it might as well be considering how closely tied the two nations are...
    – Nzall
    Feb 29 at 9:18
  • @Nzall - Basically, among all his neighbors he wants to take over, Putin's leaving them for last, as they are currently behaving like a good little client state.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 29 at 15:41
  • It actually even goes beyond "client state". They call themselves a Union state. It looks like a quasi-EU, or perhaps just a pair of nominally independent states where the smaller is in the process of digestion into the larger.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 29 at 15:50
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If there are other European countries that prohibit calling for sanctions that would be interesting to hear too, but I'm rather skeptical those exist. Although Belarus could surprise, I guess.

This one is easier than the first part of your question that requires proving a negative. Here we can look at some examples:

  1. As I commented already, Israel has a law which defines call for sanctions as a civil tort. As the result of the Supreme Court review, which held the law constitutional, the compensation for damages requires proof of actual damages connected to the call (the original law as passed allowed demands for compensation without such proof or connection). The proposal also included criminal liability, but that was removed during the deliberations in the Knesset.

  2. The US has a law prohibiting acting on such calls, and it is in fact a crime to participate in certain sanctions. There's a governmental office enforcing this. Call for boycott, however, is legal under Brandenburg.

  3. European countries, to the point of your question, also have laws against the action of boycott (some as part of anti-descrimination laws, others more explicit, in response to the Arab boycott/BDS movements). Some listed here. Similarly to the US, mere call for action is not the same as the action itself and in some countries may be considered "incitement" but in others may be considered "protected speech" (especially after the ECHR ruling that mere discriminating based on the national origin is protected political speech).

Notably, only the first example is similar to the Russian law (prohibiting sanctions on the country passing the laws), others are attempting to fight foreign sanctions against friendly nations.

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    Israel and the US are not European countries, though.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 28 at 2:20
  • "Some listed here" probably has the wrong link. I guess you meant to link to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… And it would probably make more sense to detail those a bit e.g. France rather than Israel & US. I'm starting to regret mentioning sanctions already... didn't expect there was this much to say just about that. Feb 28 at 2:21
  • Yes, thanks. @Obie2.0 yes, I pointed it out in #3, but these are more tangible and recent examples than the French attempt of using 19th century law on the matter.
    – littleadv
    Feb 28 at 2:24
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    @Dolphin613Motorboat the thing with Europe is that the ECHR ruling applies to all of them, so it doesn't really matter whether there's a law in France or Austria or whatsnot. Which makes it a bit boring. American and Israeli legislation are much more fun to read. They also compare better to Russia both in political populism and the general "patriotic" sentiment.
    – littleadv
    Feb 28 at 2:27
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    With respect to the USA, incidentally, the Anti-Boycott Act (Trump-era, naturally) is definitely not a shining example of freedom of speech, but it is more limited than it seems, because it only applies to complying with foreign boycotts. So, for instance, a US company cannot participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel, but this does not stop them from creating their own boycott of Israel. This is why a lot of Republican states have been trying to pass laws penalizing government contractor companies who support BDS—because the existing laws are not stopping them.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 28 at 2:29
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A OSCE paper from 2017,

Scott Griffen (Author/Lead Researcher), Barbara Trionfi (Managing Editor): Defamation and Insult Laws in the OSCE Region: A Comparative Study (Commissioned by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media)

tries to give a detailed overview of various criminal laws on defamation, insult and (partially) slander in all member states. With a particular regard to freedom of the press issues, it also looks at defamation and insults against heads and representatives of the state, symbols of the state and state institutions.

Generally, the OSCE maintains that

  • defamation and insults should be a matter of civil law, not criminal law
  • holders of public offices should receive less protection from defamation laws than other citizens as a part of encouraging democratic strife

An important issue is the matter of translating legal terms between languages.

In terms of the objective components, the criminal codes of many OSCE states differentiate between defamation consisting of the accusation of a particular fact and insult consisting of offensive expression. Accordingly, two separate provisions on ‘defamation’ and ‘insult’ are frequently provided (e.g., Belarus, Bulgaria, France). Notably, criminal defamation provisions in the OSCE region commonly do not (explicitly) require the impugned content to be false.

A number of states expand this basic structure to include a third offence that covers defamation in which the speaker knows the fact to be false (e.g., Germany, Greece, Switzerland).

There is divergence in terms of what ‘insult’ provisions cover. As noted above, the distinction between defamation and insult is commonly one of specific accusations versus offensive expressions that may, in court practice, resemble the facts/value judgments dichotomy. In a range of countries, insult provisions protect highly subjective concepts such as ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’ and the wording in many cases is extremely broad. Some criminal codes, however, establish the distinction between defamation and insult at least partially in terms of whether the offence was committed in the victim’s presence or not...

Independently from these differences in content, terminology also presents a challenge for comparative study. There is no standard usage for the English-language terms ‘defamation’, ‘libel’, ‘slander’, ‘insult’, etc., in official and unofficial translations of national criminal legislation. For this reason, it is essential to examine descriptions and legal definitions. Terminology differs even within single languages. For instance, the Austrian and German criminal codes both provide the offence of Verleumdung but with respect to different conduct.

Offences committed against the armed forces are listed under the general heading "Criminal defamation of the state, state symbols and state institutions". Some countries use a blanket term like "state institution" in their laws that would probably also cover the military. They are not included in the following list, which has only those criminal laws that mention armed forces explicitely.

The recent changes to laws in Russia and Belarus mentioned in the question and other answers are obviously not included in the paper.

Austria

Defamation (üble Nachrede, Art. 111): Accusing someone of a disreputable characteristic or disposition, dishonourable behaviour or of a behaviour offensive to good morals that may denigrate that person or bring him/her into disrepute in the eyes of the public. The penalty is six months in prison or a fine of 360 times the daily rate. For defamation committed through print, broadcasting “or by any other means by which the defamatory content is made accessible to a wider public”, the possible penalty is up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 760 times the daily rate.

Insult (Beleidigung, Art. 115): Insulting, ridiculing, physically mistreating, or threatening a person with physical mistreatment before at least three other individuals. The penalty is up to three months in prison or a fine of up to 180 times the daily rate.

Art. 116 of the Criminal Code provides that criminal provisions on defamation and insult also apply to expressions directed at the national or state parliaments, the armed forces or a government office.

Belarus

Discredit to the Republic of Belarus: Criminal Code Art. 369 states that “providing to a foreign state, a foreign or international organisation false information about political, economic, social, military or international situation of the Republic of Belarus, legal status of citizens of the Republic of Belarus discrediting the Republic of Belarus or its authorities (discrediting the Republic of Belarus)” shall be punished by arrest or imprisonment for a term of up to two years.

It should be noted that this article has never been applied by courts.

Cyprus

There is no general legal definition of insult, as it is not punishable outside the provision cited below.

Insult of the armed forces (Criminal Code Art. 50D): Publicly insulting the army (Army of the Republic, National Guard or any other military force established by law) is a criminal offence under Art. 50D of the Cyprus Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to two years of a fine of up to (formerly) 1,500 Cypriot pounds (approx. €2,500) or both.

Italy

Defamation (Criminal Code Art. 595): Defined as injuring the reputation of an absent person via communication with others.

Defamation of the Italian Republic, the legislative assembly, the government, the Constitutional Court or other cours and the armed forces is criminalised under Art. 290 of the Italian Criminal Code. The penalty is a fine of €1,000 to €5,000.

Monaco

Defamation is defined in Art. 21 as the allegation or imputation of a fact that harms a person's honour or good name.

Insult is defined in Art. 21 as any insulting or denigrating expression that does not involve the imputation of a fact.

Art. 22 of the Law of 15 July 2005 on Public Freedom of Expression criminalises defamation committed via the press or other means of public dissemination against bodies of public administration, courts and military institutions. The act is punished with imprisonment from three months to two years and/or with a fine according to Art. 26(4) of the Criminal Code.

Art. 25 of the Law of 15 July 2005 on Public Freedom of Expression criminalises insult committed via the same means against the bodies or persons defined in Arts. 22 and 23. The act is punished with imprisonment from six days to six months and/or a fine according to Art. 26(3) of the Criminal Code.

Spain

Slander (Criminal Code Art. 205; calumnia): Defined as “accusing another person of a felony while knowing it is false or recklessly disregarding the truth”.

Defamation (Criminal Code Art. 208; injuria): Defined as any accusation, expression, or action that “harms the dignity of another person, detracting from his reputation or attacking his self-esteem”. Defamation is only considered a crime if “by its nature, effect, or circumstances is considered serious by the public at large”. In the case of an assertion of fact, the offender must also know the statement to be false or have acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

...defamation of Parliament (or the legislature of an autonomous community) or its laws, is a criminal offence under Art. 496. The penalty is a fine of 12 to 18 months.

Under Art. 504, the same penalty applies to serious slander of defamation directed at the national government, the General Council of the Judiciary, the Constitutional and Supreme Courts (national and those of an autonomous community), the armed forces and security forces.

The paper lists examples of cases in recent years for all countries. This case from Spain is the only one that explicitely concerns armed forces (albeit the Civil Guard, not the military).

In February 2014, the director of Spain’s Civil Guard, Arsenio Fernández de Mesa, threatened criminal defamation and slander charges, apparently in relation to claims that the Civil Guard stationed in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco had mistreated would-be asylum seekers. The threat came after reports that at least 11 Western Saharan migrants had died attempting to reach Ceuta. Fernández de Mesa vigorously defended the Civil Guard’s actions and in response to the allegations stated: “It’s not fair and there are certain lines that cannot be crossed... the Civil Guard cannot be accused of any type of crime.”

Turkey

The Turkish Criminal Code defines insult as “attribut[ing] an act, or fact, to a person in a manner that may impugn that person’s honour, dignity or prestige, or attack[ing] someone’s honour, dignity or prestige by swearing”.

Insult of the state and its organs and institutions (Criminal Code Art. 301):

  • Insult of the state and state bodies. Insult against the Turkish Nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the judicial bodies of State is punished with imprisonment from six months to two years.
  • Insult of the military. The same penalty applies to those who publicly degrade the military or security organisations (Art. 301(2)).
  • Protection for criticism. Art. 301(3) provides as relates to the foregoing paragraphs that “[t]he expression of an opinion for the purpose of criticism does not constitute an offence”.

Equally to examples, statistics of convictions were sought. Only this one has numbers related to the specific offence.

Art. 301 (2) - insult of the military: 2015: 14, 2014: 8


Since I got a downvote and speculating that it might be because the legislations cited might not be considered to "closely resemble" the Russian law, let me add that I agree that most rules have sufficient checks to prevent their misuse for the suppression of opinions, with two exceptions.

For Italy, the cited definition of defamation is not detailed enough to exclude abuse. The Turkish use of the term "degrade" raises questions, but the following sentence explicitely protecting criticism on first glance seems to be an attempt of mitigation. But the paper also gives numerous examples where the rule criminalising insults against the President has been construed in such a way as to generally prohibit criticism against him – and the statistics show there have been hundreds of cases.

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    So it looks like Cyprus and Turkey are closest.
    – alamar
    Feb 28 at 17:26
  • In the case of Austria, you might wish to mention § 111 (3), which stipulates that the perpetrator is not punished if he shows that he spoke the truth, or had sufficient reason to believe it to be true.
    – meriton
    Feb 29 at 22:20
  • Would it make sense to mention that in Germany the specific statement "Soldaten sind Mörder" (soldiers are murderers) has been determined by the highest court not to constitute defamation of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany? I do not know whether any similar decisions have been handed down in Austria, which is part of the list above.
    – njuffa
    Mar 1 at 5:47
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None, if you ask for "closely resembling".

Surely, if you would publish in a press that famous NATO general keeps his dog in cage on nails and NATO troops rape girls in Ukraine, the only thing they do there, this would get some attention unless proven beyond doubt. Defamation is not permitted and the supporting laws do exist. Very obvious propaganda is generally also not permitted, as this is a weapon of the enemy and not a necessary feature of democratic society.

However I do not think that there is any country in Europe where you would be arrested for holding a poster with the words "No war" on it. As Novaya Gazeta EU writes

армии РФ, которую, напомню, нельзя дискредитировать, — а на практике это означает, что о ней вообще ничего говорить нельзя

That translates

army of the Russian Federation, which, let me remind you, cannot be discredited - and in practice this means that nothing can be said about it at all

People in Russia get arrested just for holding a blank sheet of paper, or something like "two words" written on it.

A UK barrister has been threatened with arrest for holding the blank sheet of paper, but looks like was not arrested, UK press was allowed to express disapproval (www.independent.co.uk) and the opposition is now mounting to in his support. This is somewhat close but does not look to me really the same.

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    The one exception might be Belarus.
    – Guran
    Feb 28 at 9:37
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    Very obvious propaganda is generally also not permitted, as this is a weapon of the enemy and not a necessary feature of democratic society but that's exactly how Russia treats Western revelations about its armed forces...
    – alamar
    Feb 28 at 11:39
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    The question asks about laws specifically criminalizing discrediting the armed forces, not places that'll lock you up and throw you in jail for little or no reason.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 29 at 15:18
  • @StuartF do not understand what are you talking about. "What laws exist" surely is also about how the laws are interpreted and applied, not just what is formally written.
    – Stančikas
    Feb 29 at 16:58
  • Citing specifically western-biased sources....
    – MishaP
    Mar 11 at 13:28

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