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

● Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and Global Freedom of Expression expert, Dunja Mijatović, published a Recommendation entitled “Unboxing artificial intelligence: 10 steps to protect human rights,” which provides a number of steps national authorities can take to maximise the potential of artificial intelligence systems and mitigate negative impacts through enhanced protections for data, privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, among others.

● Agnès Callamard, Director of Columbia Globel Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression have called for the immediate release of detained activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny by the Russian Federation. They further condemn the arrest of protestors and Navalny’s supporters who were engaging in peaceful assembly.

● The Cyrilla Consortium has published the first in a series of forthcoming reports on digital rights, “What’s sex got to do with it? Mapping the impact of questions of gender and sexuality on the evolution of the digital rights landscape in India.” The India Democracy Project analyzed key High Court and Supreme Court cases to find that when courts put gender and sexuality rights front and centre, over “protecting middle class morality”, possibilities to meaningfully exercise women’s rights immediately expand.

Decisions this Week

South Africa
Economic Freedom Fighters v. Minister of Justice
Decision Date: November 27, 2020
The South African Constitutional Court held that a provision criminalizing incitement to “any offence” was overly broad and an infringement of the right to freedom of expression. After a political leader was charged with incitement for encouraging his supporters to occupy land, the political party challenged the constitutionality of the offence. By acknowledging the apartheid context of the offence, the Court noted that it should not be a criminal offence to challenge laws which an individual believes to be unjust. The Court recognized the need for a crime of incitement but found that restricting the offence to incitement to “serious offences” would meet the objectives of crime prevention while not unjustifiably limiting the right to freedom of expression.

United States
Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. CNN Broadcasting, Inc.
Decision Date: November 12, 2020
The United States District Court for Atlanta Georgia dismissed a libel claim relating to a CNN article on the ground that it failed to prove actual malice against the defendants. The plaintiff, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., claimed that a libelous statement was made within a CNN article that alleged that the Trump Campaign was considering seeking Russia’s help in the 2020 election, and that the defendants (the CNN corporations) knew it was false at the time of publication. Whilst the Court found the piece contained an actionable defamatory statement because it read not as an opinion but as a fact, it did not agree that the statement was published with actual malice, requiring knowledge of its falsity or in a manner that recklessly disregarded its falsity. Actual malice was a standard that applied since the plaintiff was a public figure. The plaintiff was allowed the opportunity to file an amended complaint.

Jacob George v. The Secretary
Decision Date: May 15, 2020
The High Court of Karnataka directed the central government to consider granting compensation for media persons and newspaper delivery agents in case of death due to COVID-19. The petitioners contended that the media personnel were largely left out of the compensation schemes being announced by the government for medical and police personnel. After considering the crucial role played by journalists and media personnel in disseminating and conveying information to the citizens about the impact of the pandemic by risking their own lives, the judge was of the opinion that the journalists were carrying out essential duties just like police, doctors and nurses and that their role in a democracy could not be underestimated or undermined.

Post Scriptum

● Dr. Natalie Alkiviadou, Senior Research Fellow at the Future of Free Speech, discusses the fundamental right of freedom of expression and its correlation with humor, satire and parody in a Legal Matters podcast. She presents the recent case of a satirical twitter account under investigation for making fun of Emily Yiolitis, the Cypriot Minister of Justice, as a jumping off point to explain ECHR jurisprudence and how its compares to such protections under the First Amendment in the U.S.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression has recently published a series of case analyses of seminal ECtHR rulings relating to satire and humour:

● The Guardian reports that Biden administration will declassify an intelligence report into the murder by the Saudi government of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Agnès Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, hopes the report will shed light on the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains, and whether a risk assessment had ever been done by the US about whether Khashoggi was in danger before his trip to Turkey.

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