Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Columbia Global Freedom of Expression’s MOOC Freedom of Expression and Information in the Time of Globalization: Foundational Course” is one of the 100 most popular MOOCs of 2019,  according to Class Central.

● The Internet Society, PIR and Ethos have responded to a letter from Senators Wyden, Blumenthal and Warren and Congresswoman Eshoo inquiring about the proposed sale of the .ORG registry to the private equity firm Ethos. Their response summarizes a number of commitments Ethos and PIR have made to serve .ORG users with respect to pricing of .ORG registrations and operation of the registry.

●The White House has released 10 principles for government agencies to adhere to when proposing new AI regulations for the private sector. The move is the latest development of the American AI Initiative, launched via executive order by President Trump early last year to create a national strategy for AI.

Decisions this Week

United Kingdom
In Re Orphans From Syria
Decision Date: November 22, 2019
The Family Division of the High Court of Justice ruled that the right to privacy of repatriated British children orphaned in war torn Syria outweighed the freedom of the media to name the children, as guaranteed under articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively. The Court ordered their return from Syria as well as reporting restrictions to protect the identity of the traumatized children. Despite the order, a journalist went to the homes of a number of the children’s relatives. In response, the Court issued a revised order reiterating that any release of confidential information would result in charges of contempt of court. The Court stressed that the restrictions on freedom of expression were necessary due to the vulnerability of the children and the need to protect their privacy and family life.

Mitic v. Insider Team
Decision Date: September 19, 2018
The Higher Court in Belgrade (first instance) ruled in favor of human rights activist Anita Mitic and the Serbian branch of the regional NGO network the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) finding they had been victims of hate speech published by the tabloid Informer. Informer had published an article alleging that members of YIHR were “fascists” engaged in “specialized warfare” throughout Serbia to create chaos under the direction of foreign influence, including George Soros, NATO and Albanian authorities. Relying on the Serbian Public Information and Media Law, the right to freedom of expression under the Serbian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court found the language in the article demonstrated an intent to provoke contempt, discrimination and possibly violence against a particular group, and therefore constituted hate speech. The Court concluded that the article had damaged the editor’s reputation and caused her suffering and thus ordered Informer to pay 100,000 Serbian Dinars in damages (approx. USD941) and 71,700 Serbian Dinars (approx. USD673) in costs. The Court further ordered Informerto publish the full judgment of the court in the print version of the tabloid without delay or commentary. The decision was subsequently affirmed by the Appellate Court in Belgrade.

The Frontier of Expression: Russia and Central Asia

On December 27, 2019, the Ministry of Interior finalized a bill, which if passed would penalize dissemination of information about illegal drugs online with a two-year prison sentence. The bill was drafted on orders of Vladimir Putin. The Ministry of Interior also created a specialized department tasked with fighting drug propaganda online. The initiatives will likely lead to further disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. The Russian authorities consider any information about drugs a taboo, regardless of its public interest value. In September 2019, a popular news site was fined 800,000 rubles for “propaganda of drugs” after it published an article about the legalization of marijuana in Europe., an independent publication, was forced to geo-block an article that questioned major Russian myths about drug use written in response to the stigmatization of drug users in the country. If passed, the bill could lead to the imprisonment of journalists and social media users who write or share articles about illegal drugs.

On December 27, 2019, Preisdent Mirziyoyev made a statement welcoming the creation of political opposition in Uzbekistan, but only if it comes from within the country. He stressed that any opposition formed abroad will not be permitted in Uzbekistan. The country’s deceased autocrat Karimov imprisoned and suppressed all domestic political opposition during almost three decades of rule. Mriziyoyev’s statement is thus a welcome development, but should be taken with caution. The president announced his authorization only after Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections in which five pro-government parties split the 150 seats of the legislative chamber along predictable lines. When given a chance to be frank during first ever televised debates, the leaders of the five parties pledged unwavering support for Mirziyoyev and did not question his policies.

Post Scriptum

● In “Europe’s failure to protect liberty in Hungary,” the Atlantic discusses how an erosion of media freedoms in the country has continued with little punishment from the European Union, which professes to defend liberal values.

● University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement is accepting applications for it 2020-2021 Fellows Program. Fellows receive funding to further the national conversation related to expression and democratic participation on college campuses including how to advance campus dialogue and further diversity and inclusion.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.