Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), may face charges of “hate speech” as the Vienna prosecutor investigates whether he is responsible for posts made by other users on his Facebook page.
The prosecutor is looking into several posts by users on the popular Facebook page of the FPÖ leader that may be considered to be breaking Austria’s speech laws against minorities and migrants, reports Austrian paper Der Standard.
Lawyers in the Austrian capital are deeply divided on whether or not the FPÖ chief is responsible for the comments that other users make on his Facebook page, one of the most popular of any politician in Austria. Though many of the ‘hate speech’ posts are promptly removed by the page’s administrator, some are left up for hours.
Roland Pichler from the Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology of the University of Vienna claims that there is little chance that Mr. Strache will have any charges brought against him. He said that even if Strache had provoked the comments, it is unlikely that he could bear any responsibility for the people who posted them.
However, if Mr. Strache himself is not responsible for the posts his employees who run the page may be. Some legal experts claim that the length of time it takes to delete the posts could be a factor – especially if they are inciting violence.
Katharina Beclin from the Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology says that the owner of the page is only liable if they have been made aware of the illegal posts and haven’t acted on them. Ms. Beclin blames Mr. Strache for the comments saying: “He knows that particularly sensitive issues provoke certain reactions. When he knows that he has no control over it, he must not post such content.”
The accusations come just as the FPÖ polled record highs in the Austrian capital. A new survey conducted by Public Opinion Research shows the anti-mass migration party has 40 per cent of the vote in the traditionally left-leaning city where the ruling Socialist Party polled at a distant second with 27 per cent. Should the trend continues into next year’s federal election there could be significant gains for the FPÖ.
If Mr. Strache does face charges of hate speech he would join the ranks of other prominent populist politicians like Geert Wilders who is to be tried in the Netherlands for the offence. In neighbouring Germany PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann was found guilty of hate speech earlier this year after making a negative post about migrants on his Facebook page.