The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University: Newsletter

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

●  An Istanbul court acquitted 9 activists of trying to overthrow the government during the Gezi Protests in 2013, but hours after the ruling Osman Kavala was rearrested on new charges. The new investigation allows the government to ignore the December ruling of the European Court of Human Rights which ordered Mr. Kavala’s release due to lack of “facts, information, or evidence” showing any criminal activity.

● VKontakte vs. Facebook: From Open White Supremacy To Stealth. According to an analysis by Bellingcat, neo-Nazis are taking advantage of the Russian platform VKontakte, which has limited moderation, to openly discuss ways to circumvent Facebook’s ban on white nationalist and white separatist statements from its platform.

● In an effort to counter an increase in hate crimes, the German government has approved a new bill, which if signed into law, will expand the definition of criminal hate speech to include threats of rape or property damage, as well as expressions of approval for serious crimes. Additionally, crimes motivated by anti-Semitism would result in higher sentences.

Decisions this Week

Ramdev v. Facebook
Decision Date: October 23, 2019
The Delhi High Court issued an injunction against Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter (Defendants) and other online intermediaries, directing them to globally take down a list of URLs from their platforms which were allegedly defamatory to the Plaintiffs. The case was brought by yoga guru Swami Ramdev in relation to an alleged defamatory video and related content posted and disseminated on the Defendants’ platforms. The impugned content summarized the contents of a book which had been found to be defamatory by another court. After a detailed analysis of the law on intermediary liability in India under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Information Technology Rules, 2011, the Court held that the intermediaries were obliged to take down and block all such illegal content and videos which had been uploaded from I.P. addresses within India, on a global basis. Further, for illegal content which was uploaded outside the Indian territory, the Court directed geo-blocking access and disabling viewership of such content from within India.

The Case of Ayse Celikel
Decision Date: May 9, 2019
The Constitutional Court of Turkey held that the conviction and imprisonment of a teacher for the opinions she expressed on national TV constituted a violation of her freedom of expression. Ayse Celikel, a teacher from the Kurdish region, dialed into a popular talk show in Turkey to convey her distress over the killing of children and civilians in her area during a period of political unrest in the summer of 2016. She was subsequently charged under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law for presenting the actions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a designated terrorist organization, as legitimate and sentenced to fifteen months of imprisonment. On appeal, the Constitutional Court of Turkey reasoned that statements about the ideology, social or political goals of terrorist organizations, or about those organizations’ opinions on political, social and economic issues, do not constitute terrorist propaganda, unless they encourage or incite violent acts.

The Frontier of Expression: Russia and Central Asia

On February 4, 2020, Russian civic organizations Agora International Human Rights Group and Roskomsvoboda published a report on the extent to which the Russian authorities restricted internet freedoms in 2019. The report, titled “Internet Freedom 2019: Plan ‘Fortress’” paints a bleak picture. More Russians than ever access the internet at the second lowest cost in the world. At the same time, internet censorship is on the rise. Laws on sovereign internet, fake news, and insult of the authorities were passed in 2019. Internet shutdowns have become more common. The report’s authors noted that government repression evolved, turning harsher and further focused on government critics, online personalities, activists and even successful tech entrepreneurs. Overall, 438,981 restrictions of online expression were documented in 2019, most concerning website and service blocking. There were 57 acts or threats of violence, in 36 of which the victims were media workers and the attackers were law enforcement personnel. Agora and Roskomsvoboda concluded on a somewhat positive note, finding that although the  Russian authorities have worked hard to create a sovereign and restricted internet, their attempts have generally not been successful due to the ingenuity of Russian users to circumvent the restrictions.

On February 14, 2020, a human rights defender and member of Uzbekistan’s opposition party “Erk” was arrested in Kazakhstan on charges related to human trafficking. Hurram Berdiyev was one of the founders of the human rights defense center “Mazlum” and led one of its regional offices. In 1991, he became a member of the Uzbek opposition party “Erk,” whose leadership was either arrested or fled Uzbekistan due to political persecution. In 2005, Berdiyev began facing increasing government pressure following his public call to the European Union to initiate an international investigation of the Andijan Massacre, which resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, although the exact figure is unknown to this day. In August 2007 he disappeared after visiting a Regional Office of the Ministry of Interior to resolve a passport issue, only to be discovered in the same office by his relatives two months later. Soon after he fled Uzbekistan, first to Russia and then to Kazakhstan. In 2014, two other “Mazlum” human rights defenders were tried for human trafficking and the prosecution’s witnesses claimed that Berdiyev was also involved. The Uzbek authorities then issued a warrant for his arrest. There is a real risk that Berdiyev will be extradited to Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan has repeatedly extradited political refugees to Uzbekistan who upon refoulement received lengthy prison sentences.

Post Scriptum

● The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy has issued an open call for Nonresident Fellows. The fellowship program provides an opportunity for researchers, advocates, and lawyers working in, across, and on the region to produce solutions-oriented, policy-forward analytical pieces; to join a network of like-minded organizations, individuals, and decisionmakers, ultimately strengthening their work; and to access media, convening, and policy opportunities. Deadline: 28 February 2020

●  The International Journal of Press/Politics has issued a call for papers on “Media, Accountability and Dissent in the Middle East and North Africa.” This special issue aims to provide new research perspectives on the momentous upheavals that took place in the Middle East and North Africa in the past ten years by shedding light on the interactions between citizens, social movements, and different types of media actors. Deadline: 15 June 2020

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

1 Comment

  1. Ligo BV

    Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Freedom of information laws allow access by the general public to data held by national governments. Your blog are very effective and impressive. Good efforts

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