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Whereas publishing false statements can often be a civil wrong (e.g. libel/defamation), I am seeking examples of where it has been criminalised and codified.

Limitations:

  • Reasonably genuinely democratic jurisdictions. Not interested in authoritarian/dictatorship states where "fake news" or "discrediting" crimes exist
  • "Publishing" excludes perjury, fraud, hate speech, false police reporting etc.
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    legaldb.freemedia.at/… asserts that as of 2015, there were fifteen US states that had criminal libel laws. Does that fit your criteria? Jun 5, 2023 at 7:00
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    There were laws about COVID misinformation in some countries. Do you have a definition of "Reasonably genuinely democratic jurisdictions", because Hungary and Russia are two that passed laws. India is also a possible, but again, it's increasingly authoritarian.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 5, 2023 at 9:57
  • Related (not duplicate) law.stackexchange.com/questions/27383/when-is-it-illegal-to-lie
    – adam.baker
    Jun 6, 2023 at 6:20
  • Why is fraud excluded from publishing?
    – Barmar
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:04
  • @Barmar Because fraud is a codified crime virtually everywhere, it would dilute the interesting stuff. Also, the direct purpose of fraud is monetary gain, not spreading information. It's the latter that the question focuses on.
    – Greendrake
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:29

7 Answers 7

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Several countries have laws against Holocaust denial. Such laws typically punish people who seriously minimise the scale of Nazi crimes, or entirely deny that generally accepted Nazi atrocities took place. The Wikipedia page lists several examples.

In Austria, National Socialism Prohibition Law (1947, amendments of 1992) section 3h criminalizes "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media."

Belgium also has a 1995 law against those who "grossly minimise, attempts to justify, or approves the genocide committed by the German National Socialist Regime during the Second World War", punishable by "a prison sentence of eight days to one year, and by a fine of twenty six francs to five thousand francs".

In Czechia it is forbidden not only to deny Nazi genocide and crimes against humanity, but also similar crimes by Communist regimes (presumably primarily aimed at the Communist rulers in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe). The Law Against Support and Dissemination of Movements Oppressing Human Rights and Freedoms (2001) § 405 says "Anyone who publicly denies, disputes, approves or attempts to justify a Nazi, Communist or other genocide or Nazi, Communist or other crimes against humanity or war crimes or crimes against peace will be punished by imprisonment for six months to three years".

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    It should not come as a surprise that Germany belongs to this list as well. Jun 5, 2023 at 15:00
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    It's a bit shocking to see the word communist included there. As it's a concept that is not based in oppression in any way. This reeks of capitalist influence. Jun 6, 2023 at 10:53
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    @TheEvilMetal Czechoslovakia was under Communist regime for 40 years, including the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion to stop the country from reforming itself. Communism was just a concept for them. Jun 6, 2023 at 11:41
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    @AmiralPatate So what? That doesn't make communism equivalent to terrorism or nazi-ism. At some point some bad people claimed to be communist. Many bad people also claim to be capitalist or socialist or any other ideologies. Banning the concept must require that the concept itself is ban worthy. The concept of workers owning the business they work in is not ban worthy. The ban is from capitalist influence. To denounce the ideology that opposes their own private ownership. Jun 6, 2023 at 11:49
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    @TheEvilMetal Firstly, the answer makes no mention of banning Communism, only of banning denial of Communist crimes. Secondly, again, Communism in Eastern Europe wasn't theoretical, it was a concrete political system, responsible for decades of arbitrary arrests, forced labour, censorship, lack of self-determination, and privations. And for reference, the majority of Czech today were born before the end of Communism. Hence why A) Communist isn't greatly appreciated still, and B) denying Communist crimes is considered just as reprehensible as denying Nazi crimes. Jun 6, 2023 at 12:29
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To clarify the answer regarding the U.S.:

There is no Federal level statute for criminal defamation in the U.S. However, there are statutory laws in the U.S. that criminalize defamation in 23 states, a case law in Iowa, and a constitutional grant for criminal defamation in South Dakota (25 states with a law in some form). That said, most states restrict criminal defimation very narrowly.

In addition, it's a very rare crime to see prosecuted, let alone successfully. Between 1992 and 2004, only 41 charges were made, of which only 6 resulted in a conviction. Between 1965 and 2004 (39 years), there were only 16 successful convictions. Almost all sentences for convictions seem to indicate that the crime is a misdemeanor, with jail time averaging 173 days for those that serve jail time at all (misdemeanors in most states are 12 months for a single offence at the maximum) with fines, probation, and community service among the sentences for the charge.

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  • "In addition, it's a very rare crime to see prosecuted, let alone successfully. Between 1992 and 2004, only 41 charges were made" << Hi. I'm unfamiliar with the US' justice system so I don't know for sure what to make of this seemingly-extremely-low figure. Is it possible that this figure is due to the fact that most cases end up with a settlement rather than prosecution? For instance, A defames B, B threatens to have A prosecuted, and A agrees to pay damages and interests to B in exchange for not being prosecuted?
    – Stef
    Jun 5, 2023 at 19:39
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    @Stef Most Defimation cases in the U.S. are handled in civil court and not criminal court. In Criminal plea deals, it would likely be dropped as part of the plea deal due to it's low rate of convictions (Prosecutors usually drop the charges that they will have the hardest time convicting if they can't amend them down to a lesser included charge that they are more likely to get a conviction on) but my source (Wikipedia) had nothing to suggest that the low number was due to plea bargaining.
    – hszmv
    Jun 5, 2023 at 19:59
  • Thank you for your quick and thorough reply
    – Stef
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:01
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    At the rate of 1.05 charges per calendar year (regardless of conviction) I would say it's rare to see the charge. It could also be that the constitutionality of the law is doubtful and the prosecutor would rather not have to have a superior court erode the law by charging it... and the fact that criminal defamation has a narrower victim group than the civil tort of defamation (many of the laws I read criminalize defamation in which the victims are financial institutions. Likely intended to prevent defamation causing a bank run.).
    – hszmv
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:04
  • @Stef Forgot to tag you on my additional
    – hszmv
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:05
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In the UK, the Communications Act 2003 makes it illegal to lie over the internet in order to annoy someone.

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

But in this case the intent to annoy is a necessary element along with the known falsehood. It's not generally illegal to lie simply to mislead people.

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    Be careful to not downvote this answer, or that may annoy someone! Jun 7, 2023 at 22:49
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    I was fully expecting that link to be a lie and take me to a rickroll video instead ...
    – bta
    Jun 8, 2023 at 0:36
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Many jurisdictions in the United States make it a crime to defame someone.

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    So does Germany.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 5, 2023 at 14:48
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A few years ago New Zealand lawmakers overhauled the law of contempt of court. On the one hand, they abolished a whole lot of common law contempt offences (s 3(3)(a)):

(i) contempt in the face of the court; and

(ii) publishing information that interferes with a fair trial; and

(iii) jurors researching information relevant to the trial; and

(iv) disclosing juror deliberations; and

(v) disobeying court orders; and

(vi) scandalising the court

On the other hand, they introduced a new criminal offence of publishing false statements about judges (s 22):

(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) the person publishes a false statement about a Judge or court; and

(b) the person knew or ought reasonably to have known that the statement could undermine public confidence in the independence, integrity, impartiality, or authority of the judiciary or a court; and

(c) there is a real risk that the statement could undermine public confidence in the independence, integrity, impartiality, or authority of the judiciary or a court.

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    Interesting that (a) doesn't say "knowingly". Believing the statement to be true, but being mistaken, isn't a defense.
    – Barmar
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:11
  • @Barmar Sure, otherwise everyone charged with the offence would claim that they "believed" it.
    – Greendrake
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:26
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    Is that a defense in libel/defamation suits? I believe it is in the US -- much of the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News case was about all the internal communications showing that they knew their claims were false.
    – Barmar
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:34
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Until 2021, Canada's Criminal Code contained s. 181, which made it an offence to spread false news.

Every one who wilfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false and that causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

It was ruled unconstitutional in 1992 (R. v. Zundel, [1992] 2 SCR 731), but that did not remove it from the statute books. It was removed in 2021 in a clean-up bill along with many other "zombie" laws. See this explainer about the Bill.

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In Finland, the crime of defamation is covered by the Criminal law. Rikoslaki, chapter 24, §9 and §10 (Translation mine)

§9 Defamation

Whoever

  1. Presents or insinuates false information of another, in a manner likely to cause damage or suffering to the injured party, or disdain towards them, or
  2. In a manner other than part 1 defames another

Is to be sentenced to a fine for defamation.

[...]

§10 Aggravated Defamation

If defamation as per part 1 of §9 causes great suffering or injury, and the crime is also otherwise aggravated, the criminal must be sentenced to a fine or no more than two years of imprisonment for aggravated defamation.

In fact, §8 criminalizes publishing true statements regarding a person's private life. I have read news stories that mention that the police has an ongoing investigation for defamation or violation of privacy.

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