ICCT Live Briefing Recording: A Thin Line – Freedom of Expression vis-à-vis (Extremist) Hate Speech

On October 29, 2020, the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT), in the context of its Transatlantic Fellowship Program sponsored by the Municipality of The Hague, hosted an online Live Briefing via Zoom, followed by a Q&A session.

For further reading on this topic, please read: A comparative research study on radical and extremist (hate) speakers in European member states, ICCT Journal – November 2019

Freedom of expression is considered the lifeblood of democracy and one of the key principles of any liberal society. It allows the people to hold the powerful to account – and is closely linked to other fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association, and assembly. As such, it is not only enshrined in countless national constitutions, but it is also protected by Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, freedom of expression is also a qualified right subject to restrictions, as it comes with special duties and responsibilities. As a consequence, governments may place restrictions on it in the interest of, for example, national security. As the fight against extremism and terrorism has increasingly focused on prevention, rather than post-hoc responses, such restrictions on expression have become increasingly common practice. As part of contemporary counter-extremism and -terrorism strategies, governments “have increasingly focused on targeting incitement to, encouragement of, invitation for, support for and glorification of terrorism”.

As a result, restrictions that aim to enhance security may, in some instances, have negative implications for freedom of expression. As these two principles stand in conflict with one another, many fundamental questions about what kind of society we want to have and what principles we want to embody arise, including: When are governments permitted to place restrictions on such freedoms? What are the implications? And what are their options if they cannot or if they choose not to? What can we learn from either side of the Atlantic?


  • Robert Kahn is a Professor of Law at St. Thomas University School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the first Transatlantic Fellow in the context of ICCT’s Transatlantic Fellowship Program. His dissertation, later published as Holocaust Denial and the Law: A Comparative Study (Palgrave 2004) examined Holocaust denial litigation in France, Germany and Canada, and the absence of similar litigation in the United States. His expertise also covers the regulation of hate speech targeting Muslims and the debate over defamation of religions, European bans on the wearing of Islamic clothing in comparative perspective, the over-enforcement of speech restrictions against African-Americans, and the legal regulation of cross-burnings in the United States. Prof. Dr. Kahn’s work has appeared in international and comparative law journals at Duke, Vanderbilt, Brooklyn, Oregon and Washington University in St. Louis, as well as in edited volumes published by the Oxford and Cambridge University Press. He has presented his work at workshops and scholarly fora in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
  • Marloes van Noorloos is an Associate Professor of Criminal Law at Tilburg University. From 2007-2011 she worked as a Ph.D. candidate at the Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology (Utrecht University). Her current research interests include criminalisation of speech (hate speech, denial of gross human rights violations, glorifying terrorism, etcetera), terrorist offences, transitional justice, religion and criminal law, and the right to privacy and data science as related to criminal procedure (e.g. forensic DNA legislation). Furthermore, Prof. Dr. van Noorloos is a member of the Meijers Committee of Experts on International Immigration, Refugee and Criminal law; of the Advisory commission on fundamental rights and the functioning of civil servants (AGFA); and of the Dutch Study Committee on speech crimes. She has been president of the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM).

The Live Briefing was moderated by Julie Coleman, Senior Program Manager at ICCT.

For further reading on this topic, please read:
A comparative research study on radical and extremist (hate) speakers in European member states, ICCT Journal – November 2019

ICCT’s Transatlantic Fellowship Program

ICCT’s Transatlantic Fellowship Program seeks to build and strengthen the mutual understanding between the United States and the Netherlands through carefully designed short-term visiting fellowships. These short-term visits aim to offer insights and exchange experiences between U.S. and Dutch experts and policymakers, and inform the debate on timely topics in efforts to enhance international security. By doing so, the ICCT Transatlantic Fellowship Program seeks to defend and strengthen shared values between the Netherlands and the United States with regard to human rights and the mutual interest to protect and promote freedom and democracy.

ICCT’s Transatlantic Fellowship Program is funded by the Municipality of The Hague.