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Opinion and false statement of fact: A fine line between freedom and criminal liability

This article sheds light on the difference between opinion and false statement of fact, gives examples, and explains what may be relevant under criminal law.

In today's world, where information and opinions are spread faster than ever, it is important to understand the difference between opinion and false statement of fact. Both have their justification, but while opinions fall under the fundamental right of freedom of expression, false statements of fact can have criminal consequences.

opinion: the protection of freedom of expression

An opinion is a subjective view or evaluation that is not objectively verifiable. It falls under the fundamental right of freedom of opinion, which is protected in Germany by the Basic Law.

  • Example 1: "I think the government is doing its job badly."
  • Example 2: "In my opinion, climate change is a serious threat."

False statement of fact: When the line is crossed

Unlike an opinion, a statement of fact is objectively verifiable. If this assertion is false and violates the honor of a person, this can have criminal consequences.

  • Example 1: The assertion that a public person has evaded taxes without having evidence of this.
  • Example 2: The false claim that a company violates environmental regulations.

Punishability: What threatens false factual claims?

False factual claims may be punishable under certain circumstances as libel or slander. Penalties may include fines or even imprisonment.

Possible penalties for defamation and slander

Whoever asserts false facts and thereby harms persons must expect a conviction. For this the penal code for üble libel according to § 186 StGB provides for a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine (sourceI. A slander can also be punished by imprisonment or a fine (source).

False Factual Statement Convictions

To better understand the scope of this issue, it is helpful to look at specific cases in which courts have imposed penalties for false factual statements. Three such cases are presented below, offering insight into the legal framework and consequences.

Case 1: Hamburg Regional Court

  • File number: 324 O 998/07
  • Date of judgment: 29. February 2008
  • Details: the defendant was ordered to cease and desist from making a certain allegation.
  • Source

Case 2: Higher Regional Court of Hamm

  • File no.: I-13 U 178/11
  • Date of judgment: December 3, 2012
  • Details: The judgment dealt with omission, expression of opinion and false statement of fact in civil proceedings.
  • Source

Case 3: District Court (judgment of February 10, 2022)

  • File number: 2 O 168/21
  • Details: The District Court stated in a detailed judgment that certain allegations were false.
  • Source

Why is this issue important?

Understanding the differences between opinion and false statement of fact is crucial for a functioning democracy. It protects freedom of expression while providing a framework for responsibility in handling information.


Free speech is a cornerstone of democracy and is protected by the Basic Law. However, it is not absolute and finds its limits in the personal rights of others, public order, or threats to state security.


The criminal prosecution of false statements of fact has a long history and is enshrined in many legal systems. It serves to protect a person's honor and reputation.

This article is intended to provide impetus and food for thought without being instructive. It is important to be aware of the responsibility that each individual has in dealing with information and opinions.

Source: Own research
This article was written in accordance with the journalistic standards of DieSachsen.de.

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