Austrians are free to give the middle finger to a prominent far-right politician, an Austrian court said on Thursday (1 March).

Vienna's Higher Regional Court upheld a judgement from 2017 which ruled the offensive gesture was not a defamatory act.

Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party (FPO), alleged that he was slandered after a hard-left group known as "Linkswende" released an insulting video about him late last year.

The clip, which was published during December's parliamentary elections, showed supporters making the offensive gesture at the politician while shouting "F*** Strache."

Strache claimed the provocative video harmed his reputation and he appealed the ruling. However, the Austrian court found the video did not violate law and was expressly allowed as "freedom of speech."

Linkswende spokesman, David Albrich, said the ruling was "a victory for the freedom of the press".

48-year-old Strache is currently serving as the country's vice-chancellor after entering into coalition with centre-right People's Party, following last year's parliamentary elections. The group, which strongly opposed the "Islamisation" of Europe, came second in the ballot and collected nearly 30% of the vote.

Strache has been linked with fascist groups in the past and was arrested, aged 20, for leading a Hitler Youth-style march. His elevation to the second-most powerful man in Austria marks a major turnaround for the party during his ten years in charge.

Austrian Freedom Party
Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Hofer waves with the Austrian flag in Vienna Leonhard Foeger