February 27, 2024

No to the introduction of “malicious undermining of State authority” in the Belgian Penal Code

BelgiumEconomic, social and cultural rightsFreedom of expressionHuman rights defendersSecurity and freedom

Crédit photo : Justine Dofal
Photo credit: Justine Dofal

On 22 February, the Belgian federal parliament approved the adoption of a new criminal code. A necessary reform, but one in which certain provisions worry the actors of civil society, particularly the one provision concerning the introduction of an offence of malicious attack on the authority of the State. What lies behind this article is the possibility for the State and the magistrates to criminalise the use of a tool that is fundamental to the proper functioning of our democracies: civil disobedience.

This text is part of a growing trend, in Europe and elsewhere, towards the criminalisation of social movements and attacks on the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression.

This article of the penal code on ‘malicious undermining of the authority of the State’ could be used to attack social movements, and its broad definition leaves a lot of room for arbitrariness and the discretion of magistrates.

Such a situation would undermine the principles of legal certainty, legality, equality before the law and freedom of expression, which are essential in any democratic society.

Civil disobedience: a fundamental democratic tool

Civil disobedience is the act of publicly, consciously and non-violently breaking the law in order to denounce and call for the reform of a law or public policy that infringes people’s fundamental rights.

It does not call into question the rule of law, but targets specific legislation or policies. Its aim is to put certain issues back at the heart of public debate, thereby nourishing the democratic life of a state.

Not only is it compatible with democracy, it is essential to its proper functioning, particularly when legal and political avenues have been exhausted.

Combined with other legal means of action, it makes it possible to win battles for rights and justice.

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