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

● The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has called for action to end Facebook’s complicity in enabling hate speech in India. In a letter to Facebook Executives, the APC has expressed concern about the escalation of hate speech and the failures of Facebook India to effectively respond. The letter calls for an audit of hate speech on the platform, immediate action to be taken against such content, and an investigation into allegations that Facebook India is not applying their hate speech community standards.

● The Institute for Advanced Study at Central European University will launch the “Cartoons in Court” project with an online panel discussion to explore how to draw a line between free speech and hate speech, when it comes to humor. 21 September 2020, 15:00-16:30 (CEST Time).

● Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition created the Kill Switch podcast, a six-part series exploring the international rise of government-ordered internet shutdowns and the human rights impact. The podcast highlights the work of human rights advocates working to end internet shutdowns.

Decisions this Week

United States
Index Newspapers LLC v. City of Portland
Decision Date: August 27, 2020
The United States Ninth Circuit Court temporarily lifted a preliminary injunction against federal agents in the city of Portland which prevented them from dispersing, arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers while policing protests. The action was initially brought by Index Newspapers LLC and a range of journalists, photographers and legal observers after federal agents in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Marshals Service allegedly targeted journalists during the 2020 George Floyd protests with smoke grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and other lethal ammunitions. The District Court had issued a preliminary injunction in recognition of a significant public interest in upholding the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to observe government conduct during protests. However, DHS appealed and the majority opinion of the Court of Appeals found that an exemption for “Journalists” and “Legal Observers” from dispersal orders was “without legal basis.” The Court of Appeals further criticised the order’s “breadth and lack of clarity,” which risked causing “irreparable harm to law enforcement efforts and personnel.”

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Steve Sisolak
Decision Date: July 24, 2020
The Supreme Court of the United States denied an emergency application by the Calvary Chapel to hold religious  services, in a challenge to the State of Nevada Covid-19 emergency orders. The Church claimed that a state directive allowing non-essential businesses, such as casinos and water parks, to operate at 50% capacity but  preventing  places of worship from congregating with more than 50 people under any circumstance, was discriminatory and violated its right to Free Exercise, Free Speech and Public Assembly protected by the First Amendment. The emergency plea came after the District Court refused to grant relief and the Ninth Circuit denied Calvary Chapel’s application for an injunction pending appeal. The decision of the Supreme Court denying the injunctive relief had the support of five justices, but provided no reasoning. However, Justices Alito, Thomas, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch gave lengthy dissenting opinions broadly agreeing that the fact that “Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing.”

Badna Nhasib Movement v. Public Prosecutor
Decision Date: December 30, 2019
The Individual Penal Judge in Beirut (the Court) dismissed criminal proceedings against members of the “Badna Nhasib” (We Want Accountability) movement for staging a protest relating to the 2015 garbage crisis in Lebanon. The defendants had gathered at the Ministry of the Environment to make a formal request to meet with the Minister to discuss the issue of the waste crisis as well as to inquire about the fate of complaints which they had previously submitted. While the group waited peacefully in the hallway for an answer, Security Forces arrived to handcuff, arrest and forcibly remove them from the Ministry. The Public Prosecutor brought charges based on Articles 346 and 347 of the Penal Code, claiming the gathering constituted a riot. After examining the facts of the case, the Court found that the defendants’ peaceful protest and refusal to leave the Ministry before receiving an answer to their request, did not fall within the elements of a riot or disturbance stipulated in the penal code. Holding that the material elements of a crime were lacking, the Court dismissed the charges.

Post Scriptum

● China has announced a new initiative to set standards for global data security in an effort to counter the U.S. clean network program which aims to exclude Chinese technology from the internet infrastructure. Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that the initiative promotes respect for the “sovereignty, jurisdiction and governance of data in other states,” and opposes data theft and misuse as well as technology designed to conduct mass surveillance.

● A new report by FirstDraft, ‘An unquestionable truth’: Religious misinformation in the coronavirus pandemic, explores the prevalence of coronavirus misinformation in Latin American Christian communities. The report highlights also the spread of misinformation about the pandemic by religious leaders around the globe, from Spain to Australia and by both Hindu and Muslim Indian clerics. However, FirstDraft points out that while these communities provide a dangerous vector for misinformation, they also present an opportunity to combat it.

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