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

● Facebook has named Thomas Hughes, former executive director of ARTICLE 19, as its Director of Oversight Board Administration. Facebook’s new Oversight Board (bylaws and a summary chart) will hear appeals regarding content takedowns and make binding decisions. Ranking Digital Rights has also published its response to Facebook on the Oversight Board bylaws, trust, and human rights review.

● The Global Network Initiative (GNI) issued a statement on Domestic Cases Asserting Global Internet Jurisdiction. GNI is deeply concerned by recent rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union that fail to sufficiently consider the risks posed when authorities in European countries assert legal jurisdiction over Internet content beyond their corresponding territorial boundaries. They warn that these decisions have had, and will continue to have, troubling consequences for freedom of expression and privacy across the world.

● International Press Institute, in collaboration with Global Freedom of Expression Expert Nani Jansen Reventlow, have launched sets of videos to give journalists, editors and newsroom managers insight into existing legal remedies to fight online harassment as well as tools to recognize and address the trauma that online harassment can cause.

Decisions this Week

Motshidiemang v. Attorney General
Decision Date: June 11, 2019
The High Court of Botswana declared that the time was ripe to decriminalize homosexuality, thereby overturning the 2003 decision in Kanane v. S, which upheld the constitutionality of the sodomy laws. The case was brought by a gay man who challenged the Botswana Penal Code provisions that criminalized same-sex sexual intercourse on the grounds that they infringed his rights to dignity and liberty and to be free from discrimination. The Court held that sexual orientation is innate to an individual and that the criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct infringed the rights to liberty, dignity and privacy and constituted discrimination. It added that there was no public purpose in continuing the criminalization and that there was no justification for infringing upon those rights.

EG v. Attorney General
Decision Date: May 24, 2019
The High Court in Nairobi held that the provisions in the Penal Code which criminalize same-sex sexual conduct were constitutional and did not infringe the rights to equality, dignity, privacy, health, expression, freedom and security of the person, or the right to a fair hearing. The case had been brought by individuals and human rights NGOs in Kenya who argued that individuals experienced discrimination and physical attacks as a result of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The Court held that there was insufficient evidence brought in the case to demonstrate infringement of the rights, and held that decriminalizing same-sex sexual conduct would lead to cohabitation of same-sex couples which would infringe the constitutional provisions that protect the family as the “natural and fundamental unit of society” and the important role of “culture as the foundation of the nation and as the cumulative civilization of the Kenyan people and nation.”

The Frontier of Expression: Russia and Central Asia

On January 30, 2020, Vladimir Putin ordered the head of government to find ways to strengthen accountability for insult and to perfect the means of combating misinformation. The deadline to present a plan on how to achieve these tasks is July 1, 2020. The idea for the initiative originated in Russia’s Governmental Committee on Human Rights which suggested that public officials and police who insult citizens should be held to account. Putin agreed that although the criminal code penalizes insult, there may be a need to evaluate how these laws work in practice and if they protect citizens from insult by those in power. Additionally, Putin ordered the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, and the information watchdog Roskomnadzor to review the practical application of laws and jurisprudence on the protection of honor and dignity online. This initiative has been viewed with much skepticism by freedom of expression advocates in Russia.

On January 30, 2020, a journalist critical of the government was charged with incitement of hatred and placed in pre-trial detention for two months. Daler Sharifov is an independent journalist and the founder of a non-governmental organization combating cronyism and nepotism. His relatives recall, that in the morning of January 28 he left his home for a meeting in the city. In the evening of that same day, police showed-up at the journalist’s home, searched it, and confiscated several books in Arabic and a laptop. Asked about Sharifov’s whereabouts, the authorities claimed that they knew nothing. The next day, other journalists discovered that Sharifov was detained by the security services, but his relatives were still not allowed to contact him. On January 30, the press learned that the security services charged Sharifov with incitement to national, racial, regional and religious hatred and a court hastily ordered to keep Sharifov in pre-trial detention for two months.

Post Scriptum

● Submit your vote for the Best and Worst ECtHR Judgments of 2019! Where did the Strasbourg Court seize the opportunity to truly act as a beacon of hope to victims of human rights violations across Europe? Conversely, where did the Court fail to provide robust human rights protection? Out of the 2,000+ judgments delivered by the ECtHR in the course of 2019, Strasbourg Observers has narrowed the field to five cases in each category.

● Internet Censorship 2020: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions. Comparitech conducted a country-by-country comparison to see which countries impose the harshest internet restrictions and where citizens can enjoy the most online freedom. This includes restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media.

● If you are conducting research on internet censorship, try Magma, an open-licensed, collaborative repository which provides the first publicly available research framework for people working to measure information controls and online surveillance activities. In it, users can find the resources they need to perform their research more effectively and efficiently.

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