In the US, it is a criminal offense to perform the statement "I want to kill the president". However, to simply quote it, as I just did, is permissible; the statement is by itself not illegal.

In the US, is is also a criminal offense to quote a copyrighted work in public, unless this is covered by fair use laws and so on. The following computer code would violate the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, had I not redacted a line (the horror!):

#define m(i)(x[i]^s[i+84])<<
unsigned char x[5],y,s[2048];main(n){for(read(0,x,5);read(0,s,n=2048);write(1,s
,n))if(s[y=s[13]%8+20]/16%4==1){int i=m(1)17^256+m(0)8,k=m(2)0,j=m(4)17^m(3)9^k

In New Zealand and Australia, it is, regardless of context, a criminal offense to post or possess the "The Great Replacement" manifesto, which is 74 pages long. This applies regardless of context; it is not permitted to quote it in full, even if you are not performing it. However, short fragments are fine.

What is the shortest statement that is, unto itself, a crime to communicate in any OECD country, use-mention distinction notwithstanding?

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    I'm reminded of the t-shirt saying "This shirt is a munition" from the crypto-wars, where technically due to the classification of cryptography as a munition made it illegal to allow a foreigner to view the contents of the text on the shirt (which was the code for a form of cryptography). I assume that doesn't meet the standard of "illegal statement" in this question though.
    – Kommissar
    Jul 23, 2020 at 18:52
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    What law(s) are you referring to re the Great Replacement manifesto? Hate speech is illegal in both countries but that would require context.
    – Dale M
    Jul 23, 2020 at 21:43
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    I was looking into lèse-majesté laws (several OECD countries still have them), but it's hard to tell whether they allow for quoting insulting statements. Jul 23, 2020 at 22:26
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    Do you have a reference to support your assertion that it is illegal to express a desire to kill the president?
    – phoog
    Jul 24, 2020 at 3:41
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    No statement in isolation is illegal. Only context transforms an otherwise not illegal statement into a crime or other violation of law. While the statute itself so transformed may be short, the setup almost invariably requires lots of words at some point.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 21, 2020 at 21:23

3 Answers 3


The "Hitlergruß"

In , statements and even gestures that are identified with the nazi ideology are a criminal offence under StGB §86a (Dissemination of Means of Propaganda of Unconstitutional Organizations) and StGB $130 (Volksverhetzung), leaving a gap only for art, science, research or teaching. This makes the "Hitlergruß" with or without the accompanied statements of "Heil", "Sieg Heil" or "Heil Hitler" an offense that can end you in prison unless you can point to one of the allowed exceptions: up to three years for the dissemination of means of propaganda and at least three months but at max 5 years for Volksverhetzung, especially §130 (3) & (4), the general sentence frame thus would be three months to three years, unless other factors allow for more - the typical sentence is 6 months or a quite hefty fine (some have been known to be 5000 €)

bans the same gesture and sentences via Verbotsgesetz §3g as promoting the national socialist ideology through means that are not in §3a-f (which span more or less trying to keep the nazi party alive and violent crimes) and punishes it with (theoretically) up to 10 years and for extreme cases double that.

In , the gesture is a hate crime if you promote the nazi ideology with it. as well es the also deem this gesture, with or without the words, a criminal offence (up to 5 years in both parts of former ), deems it a hate crime (see here) and deems it the same if associated with the Italian Fascist Party. Several other jurisdictions, including in the , do recognize that performing this form of "speech" can be either a hate crime or an offence against public order of some sort.

This makes the gesture of "extending the right arm to neck height and then straightening the hand so that it is parallel to the arm" (and possibly using the 4, 8 or 10 letters together with it) the shortest illegal statement - which atop that is possibly the single statement that is also illegal in the most jurisdictions worldwide and not a true threat.


In swedish law, with a clear recipient "dö!", i e die with an exclamation mark making it an imperative, it could be seen as an unlawful threat. Three characters, though how it works in other countries I do not know.

  • The same would be true in U.S. law, (spelled "Die!") which could turn otherwise non-criminal conduct into attempted murder or an illegal threat. But, this really overstates the reality in both cases, because the illegality is highly context specific. Simply saying that word is in neither case necessarily a crime or a violation of the law. Similarly, saying "no" in a context when one is required to say "yes" (e.g. in response to a question like "put down the gun") could be a crime, but the context rather than the words in isolation are critical to determine its legal effect.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 26, 2022 at 16:53

It's unclear whether you intended to include body gestures as "statements" (how do you measure the length of a gesture). The length of the Hitlergruß is a little under a yard, whereas the middle finger, extended to a judge, is even shorter (a couple of inches) and will result in some punishment for contempt of court. Since it seems that we can depend on context to make a statement illegal, the word "no" is illegal when uttered under penalty of perjury, and the speaker knows that the true answer is "yes". There are innumerable single-letter statements which would be similarly perjurious, such as a knowingly false answer to the question "What letter was engraved on defendant's ring".

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    The "hitlergruß" is a 0 character statement, it takes the same amount of time as a middle finger. However, it is a criminal offence, while the middle finger is at best a civil offence.
    – Trish
    Dec 20, 2020 at 22:26

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