This is the question the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to decide. Seized by a prisoner who complains of having had his pornographic magazines confiscated, the court must decide whether prisons can legitimately prohibit the possession and use of such documents.
The facts of this case can be very succinctly summarized: the applicant is serving a prison sentence in Slovakia for a double murder and complains of having had pornographic material withdrawn, and of having been sanctioned for this violation of the rules of the jail. He said this confiscation and the general ban on possessing such documents violated his privacy and freedom of expression. The Court will judge whether access to pornography in prison is a right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECLJ has been authorized by the Court to intervene in this case and has submitted written observations (available here in French). In its observations, the ECLJ first recalled that pornography is inherently immoral.
Therefore, states can, as the European Convention indicates, limit certain freedoms to protect morals, as well as the safety, health or rights of others. The protection of morals is a State prerogative recognized by the Convention in Articles 8, 9, 10, 11 and 21.
The ECLJ relies on its report “Pornography and Human Rights” (2020) to indicate to the Court that numerous studies establish that repeated use of pornography causes a risk of addiction, as well as numerous pathologies. psychological and relationship disorders.
This systematically devalues people and incites violence, aggression and even sadism or masochism. The devaluation of women is almost systematic in pornography, where they are presented in a stereotypical and humiliating manner. The ECLJ also stresses that it is all the more legitimate to protect prisoners from the perverse effects of pornography as these people are particularly vulnerable to it. Their isolation and idleness increases the risk of dependency.
The incitement to instinctual violence caused by pornography is even more problematic when it comes to prisoners guilty of sexual violence. It follows that not preventing the dissemination of pornographic material in these places of detention would be a breach of the State’s duty to ensure the good health of its detainees, their safety, as well as their reintegration. Admittedly, during these last decades, the European Court made a very limited application of the protection of “morals”, covering it with the modest veil of private life. However, when it comes to pornography, other grounds, relating to health, safety and dignity, call for greater control. Society seems to be increasingly aware of the harmfulness of pornography and the need to protect its protagonists as well as young and vulnerable people.
Two draft resolutions are currently under consideration in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which recommend that states exercise greater control, from the perspective of the rights of women and children. The ECLJ hopes that the ECHR will ensure that an interpretation of human rights that respects health and human dignity prevails.