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 Committee to Protect Journalists argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the U.S. intelligence community should confirm or deny the existence of documents that may provide information on its duty to warn Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life before his murder, or provide more detailed explanations of their refusal to do so.

● Global Freedom of Expression expert Katharine Gelber debunks claims of censorship in her article “No, Twitter is not censoring Donald Trump. Free speech is not guaranteed if it harms others.”  Gelber points out that there is no free speech “right” to incite violence or to appear on a particular platform, even if you are the President of the United States. Moreover, Trump can still get his opinions out through press conferences, just like in the old days before Twitter.

● Writing for Inforrm’s Blog, Eliza Bechtold in “Free speech in America: is the US approach fit for purpose in the age of social media?” discusses whether the concept of the “marketplace of ideas” is viable in the digital age and whether it is time for the US “to engage in a conversation about the appropriate limits of free speech in the 21st century.”

●  Book Launch: The Knight First Amendment Institute’s Katy Glenn Bass talks to Ethan Zuckerman about his new book, Mistrust, which explores ways to address the public’s loss of faith in institutions through new ways of participating in civic life. Jan 27, 2021 12:30 PM EST. RSVP

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Tölle v. Croatia
Decision Date: December 10, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in a case concerning allegations of domestic violence, found the national courts failed to strike a reasonable balance of proportionality between the right to freedom of expression and the legitimate aim to protect the reputation or the rights of others. A father accused in the media an association of being responsible for his child’s abduction by the mother. The president of this association, which provides support to women victims of violence, replied in a radio-interview that her organisation was not involved in the daughter’s abduction and that the man had violently abused his wife to the extent that the mother and daughter fled the country. The association’s president was subsequently convicted for the criminal offence of insult. The ECtHR found that this criminal conviction amounted to a violation of the association’s president’s freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court further found the criminal conviction for insult a form of censorship, discouraging the promotion of support to victims of domestic violence.

United States
Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York
Decision Date: November 25, 2020
The United States Supreme Court granted an injunction over the New York Governor’s enforcement of an executive order aimed at combatting COVID-19. The applicants, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, claimed that they were disproportionately impacted by restrictions that limited attendance at their institutions to only 10 or 25 persons whilst secular businesses nearby were not capped, violating the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court found that the applicants had established their entitlement to relief by demonstrating that their claims were likely to prevail, that a denial of relief would mean irreparable injury, and that relief would not prejudice public interest. Specifically, the Court noted the favorable treatment given to “essential” secular businesses, the precautions taken by the applicants, and their large seating capacities. Thus, the restrictions were not “narrowly tailored,” causing notable harm to attendees. The Court also found that there was insufficient evidence that public health would be jeopardized by upholding First Amendment protections. Despite an easing of the restrictions due to a lowered threat level, the Court found it necessary to grant the requested relief in the event circumstances changed and the restrictions were reinstated.

T. Ganesh v. Union of India
Decision Date: April 9, 2020
The High Court of Madras refused to stop publication of newspapers on the ground that they might lead to the spread of Covid-19. The petitioner had challenged the exemption given by the central government to the print media and electronic media from the beginning of the nationwide lockdown and requested an end to the circulation of newspapers because of the likelihood of the spread of coronavirus. The judges were of the opinion that mere apprehension could not be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of the fundamental rights, not only of the publisher and editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

Post Scriptum

● An Egyptian appeals court has acquitted two young women imprisoned for violating “family principles and values” by posting “indecent” videos on TikTok. Both women were originally charged under the 2018 Cybercrime Law – the first time these offences were invoked since the law’s adoption. See The Case of the Egyptian TikTok Influencers.

● The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) in Egypt has issued a position paper arguing that disclosure of state held information is essential to confront the pandemic, as it contributes to raising citizens’ awareness and mobilizing the capacities of the health sector and civil society, in addition to organizing the work of state institutions and the private sector under appropriate measures.

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