Asser researchers contribute to a study on radical and hate speakers in Europe

Published 20 November 2019

British Muslim fundamentalist Anjem Choudary talks to the press on his visit to Amsterdam. ©Shutterstock

Four Asser researchers contributed to a comparative research study on radical and extremist hate speakers in European member states published by the The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT). Dr Ulad Belavusau, Dr Berenice Boutin, Dr Rumyana Grozdanova and Dr Christophe Paulussen provided research input on the international and European legal obligations and how other European member states than the Netherlands are dealing with hate speakers domestically, as well as the best practices they follow to tackle the issue.


The report entitled “A Comparative Research Study on Radical and Extremist (Hate) Speakers in European Member States” was put together at the request of the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV).  

In the context of extremist hate speech in Europe in recent years, legislative provisions have been enacted that inevitably resulted in potentially substantial limitations on the right to freedom of speech. A number of individuals have been subjected to onerous administrative measures in relation to their speech – sometimes after a criminal conviction, sometimes in the absence of criminal law action. Thus, the question of proportionality has inevitably arisen – to what extent can a state legitimately and justifiably restrict the right to freedom of expression in the interests of national security? To put it differently, in respecting its broader social obligation to ensure and preserve security, how much should a state qualify the right to freedom of expression? In addressing these questions, this comparative report will first outline in more detail the applicable international and regional legal obligations and relevant case law in Sections 1 and 2 respectively. Section 3 will focus on the following countries – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France and the United Kingdom – with particular emphasis on domestic legislative provisions, jurisprudence and national strategies specifically adopted to respond to the risks posed by extreme speakers. It should be noted at the outset that the United Kingdom has legislated against extreme and radical speech within its counter-terrorism legislation. The report will conclude a list of conclusions and closing remarks based on the impact of these domestic practices and legal responses on the right to freedom of expression.


In the report, researchers observed some trends and patterns, like the regular adjustment of counter-terrorism, immigration and criminal legislative tool-kits across all five countries, among others. They also offered some conclusions, including:

  • Governments should thoroughly explore the wide range of legal powers already available in existing legislation.
  • Governments should address the problems of extremism and extreme speakers with precise legislative definitions and proportionate measures.
  • Appropriate governmental and independent bodies should monitor and evaluate expansive criminal law, immigration and counter-terrorism measures targeting incitement, encouragement, glorification and apology for terrorism and proposed new legislation should be evaluated against the standards of necessity and proportionality.
  • States should beware of the pitfalls of over-regulating online space and overly restricting the right to freedom of expression.

Read the full comparative study here.