The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the conviction of four Swedish men who handed out leaflets to children which said being gay was “morally destructive” to society.

The applicants lost their case after the court found Sweden had not violated their rights to free speech.

The National Youth leaflets said homosexuality was a “deviant sexual proclivity”, had “a morally destructive effect” on society and was responsible for the spread of HIV and AIDS.

They also claimed the “homosexual lobby” was trying to play down paedophilia.

In 2004, Tor Fredrik Vejdeland, Mattias Harlin, Björn Täng and Niklas Lundström had handed out about a hundred leaflets or left them in the lockers of pupils at a school in Söderhamn.

They were asked to leave by the principal and later convicted under Swedish law of agitation against a national or ethnic group.

Exhausting domestic courts, they appealed to the ECHR on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, that their rights to free speech were infringed and, under Article 7, that they were therefore unjustly punished. The court rejected both claims.

It found the statements constituted serious and prejudicial allegations about gays and that the group had effectively forced them on students by leaving them in personal lockers.

The first three applicants were given suspended sentences and fines ranging from approximately €200 to €2,000 and the fourth applicant was sentenced to probation.

In January, three British men were found guilty of distributing leaflets intended to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Five Muslim men had stood trial at Derby Crown Court on the newly-created charges, which carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Ihjaz Ali, Kabir Ahmed and Razwan Javed had distributed a leaflet entitled ‘The Death Penalty?’ outside their mosque ahead of a gay Pride parade. It contained an image of a mannequin hanging from a noose and quoted Muslim texts. They are due to be sentenced tomorrow.