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

● On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, call for international accountability mechanisms to address impunity. To counter a global pattern of impunity and cover up, they urge States to establish a standing investigatory mechanism  at the United Nations, to impose the “Khashoggi sanctions” (individualised sanctions against those responsible for ordering acts of violence against journalists), and a strengthening of preventive measures, including early warning and rapid response mechanism.

● Columbia University Professor and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz called for a moment of silence to honor the memory of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi while delivering the keynote speech to a virtual global forum hosted by Saudi Arabia. Further noting the imprisonment of prominent Saudi women’s rights activists, he urged for Saudi Arabia to be held accountable for its record on human rights. Video of the remarks and related tweets have been censored and taken down by the organizers.

● The Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani has raised concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of its general elections on 8 November. These include violations of the right to political participation marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence. An internet shutdown effectively remains in place in eight townships severely limiting the ability of residents to enjoy their right to receive and impart information, including on COVID-19 and the elections.

● Mark your calendars for UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Conference 2020, December 9-10. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is hosting a panel, Investigating killings of journalists: Successes, Limitations and Recommendations to discuss what lessons can be drawn from the investigations into the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Jamal Khashoggi, Chris Allen, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon that will improve the search for truth, justice and accountability going forward.

Decisions this Week

Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police
Decision Date: October 7, 2020
The Supreme Court of India held that public protests and demonstrations expressing dissent must only be organized in designated places. The Court allowed an appeal brought by advocate Amit Sahni for the removal of a protest organized at Shaheen Bagh, a New Dehli neighborhood, against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. The appellant argued that the protest blocked the public way and caused grave inconvenience to commuters. Accepting this contention, the Court ruled that despite the existence of the right to peaceful protest against a legislation, public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely. It held that the rights to freedom of expression and protest under Article 19 of the Constitution are subject to reasonable restrictions pertaining to the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order and to the regulation by the concerned police authorities.

Court of Justice of the European Union
Commission v. Hungary (Higher education)
Decision Date: June 10, 2020
The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union found that amendments to Hungary’s Higher Education Act of 2011, which placed new restrictions on higher education institutions, were incompatible with EU law. The action was brought by the European Commission against Hungary following the adoption of the amendments in 2017, which ultimately forced the Central European University to move its operations to Austria. The Court held that the requirement that foreign institutions of higher education establish an international treaty between Hungary and the State of origin was a violation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (‘GATS’) of the World Trade Organisation. This requirement also restricted the right to academic freedom, the freedom to found higher education institutions and conduct a business under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court observed that, as academic freedom protects “freedom of expression and of action, freedom to disseminate information and freedom to conduct research and to distribute knowledge and truth without restriction,” the restrictions endangered freedoms enshrined under Articles 10 and 13 of the European Charter. The Court further found that, by adopting the additional requirement that foreign higher education institutions offer educational services in the country of origin, Hungary failed to comply with their obligations under the GATS.

Post Scriptum

● Columbia University Professors David Pozen and Michael Schudson have published an edited volume titled Troubling Transparency: The History and Future of Freedom of Information which brings together leading scholars from different disciplines to analyze freedom of information policies in the United States and abroad―how they are working, how they are failing, and how they might be improved. It  includes chapters by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression experts Kyu Ho Youm and Toby Mendel on “The Global Influence of the United States on Freedom of Information,” and Frederick Schauer on “Positive Rights, Negative Rights, and the Right to Know.”
●  ARTICLE 19, EFF and Privacy International, have submitted a a third-party intervention in the Pietrzak v. Poland (Application No.72038/17) case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case concerns the compatibility of the Polish legal framework governing surveillance with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The joint submission argues that communications metadata is just as intrusive as the content of communication and therefore must be given the same level of protection

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