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

● Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and Global Freedom of Expression expert, writes that it is Time to take action against SLAPPs, so-called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, which are on the rise in Europe and pose a threat to freedom of expression. Her article explains the existing European standards to counter these “abusive lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence critics” and she presents a three-fold approach for a comprehensive response.

● The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in partnership with AfDec Coalition members developed a series of reports on the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and human rights. These 19 reports examine how the pandemic scenario has affected the internet and human rights in Africa in regard to education, surveillance, data protection and privacy, gender, information and communications technology policy and practice, access and governance.

● CPJ has published an interview with Nora Younis, the editor-in-chief of Al-Manassa, an Egyptian open platform for collaborative journalism by citizens and freelancers, who is the first journalist to face charges under the 2018 Cybercrime Law for her work. She discusses the Egyptian government’s various strategies to block the website citing fake news, including use of a US produced technology to censor sites, and Al-Manassa’s maneuvers to circumvent them.

Decisions this Week

In Re Prashant Bhushan, Twitter Communications India Pvt. Ltd.
Decision Date: August 31, 2020
The Supreme Court of India initiated contempt proceedings against public interest lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, based on two tweets posted by him on the social media platform Twitter. The tweets, one of which was a comment on the Chief Justice of India riding an expensive Harley-Davidson motorcycle belonging to a ruling party leader, and the other, a critique of the Supreme Court’s role in destroying democracy in India, were viewed by the Court as  a ’malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack’ on the institution of administration of justice. The Supreme Court declared that the tweets had the ‘effect of destabilizing the very foundation of [this] important pillar of Indian democracy’ and held Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court. In response to a nationwide criticism against judiciary’s attempt to thwart free speech, the Court handed down a symbolic punishment sentencing him with a nominal fine of Re. 1 (rupee 1).

The Case of the Egyptian TikTok Girls
Decision Date: July 27, 2020
The Cairo Economic Misdemeanor Court convicted two women for violating “family principles and values upheld by Egyptian society” for posting “indecent” videos and images and sentenced them to two years imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 EGP (approximately USD 20,000 in 2020). One woman was arrested after posting videos on the social media platform, TikTok, encouraging other women to join a mobile application to meet, chat to and build relationships with men in exchange for money. The other was arrested for posting “indecent” photos and videos of her unclothed and dancing. Both women were charged under the 2018 Cybercrime Law – the first time these offences had been used since the law’s adoption. The Court noted that, although freedom of expression is a fundamental right, it can be limited so as to protect society’s values and principles and held that the offences created by the Cybercrime Law seek to protect those values and are therefore constitutional.

Attorney General v. Mejri
Decision Date: June 18, 2012
The Court of Appeal of Monastir upheld a lower court decision sentencing an individual to a total of 7 years and 6 months in jail and a fine of 1200 Tunisian dinars (approximately US$440 in 2020) for publishing images on Facebook which denigrated Islam. After the individual had published images depicting Prophet Mohamed as a pedophile and as a pig eating rats and had republished a pamphlet critical of Islam authored by another individual, he was arrested and charged with three offences related to threats to public morality. The Court rejected the individual’s argument that international treaties protected this exercise of his right to freedom of expression and held that the right does not extend to expression that offends public morals and religious principles.

Post Scriptum

●  Internet Policy Review has just published Combating misinformation online: re-imagining social media for policy-making. This paper reports on data collected from policymakers in Austria, Greece, and Sweden and identifies four important themes for supporting policy-making for combating misinformation: a) creating a trusted network of experts and collaborators, b) facilitating the validation of online information, c) providing access to visualisations of data at different levels of granularity, and d) increasing the transparency and explainability of flagged misinformative content.

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