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

● Upcoming Event“Who is the Guardian of Free Speech? Meta‘s Oversight Board and (other) Courts and Dispute Resolution Mechanisms.” Join the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) in cooperation with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for a discussion on the relationship between State courts and emerging private dispute resolution mechanisms in the realm of content moderation, their effect on freedom of speech on the internet and new regulatory proposals in instruments such as “Europe’s Constitution for Internet Platforms”, the Digital Services Act. Panelists include Oversight Board’s Co-Chair and former Inter-American Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Professor Catalina Botero-Marino (Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University); Professor Martin Eifert (Humboldt University Berlin); Professor Matthias Kettemann (University of Innsbruck / Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg); and Erik Tuchtfeld (MPIL). The discussion will be moderated by Alexandra Kemmerer (MPIL), and will be open for comments and questions by registered participants. Thursday, 10 February from 11:00 AM-12:30 PM ET / 5:00-6:30 PM CEST. Register here.

 Upcoming Event: “On Free speech: Has Europe got it right?” Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression partner Jacob Mchangama and the Yale Law School for a virtual event about the problem of  viral lies and conspiracy theories. In stark contrast to the US, European democracies – and the EU – have adopted a number of laws and measures to curb misinformation and hate speech in the digital age. Jacob Mchangama will give a diagnosis on the future of free speech as seen through the prism of the history of this fundamental freedom and whether the US should look to Europe when it comes to free speech. Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at 12:00PM – 1:30PM. Contact for the link.

● Upcoming Event: “National and international legal frameworks on freedom of expression, access to public information and protection of journalists.” an online course offered by The General Directorate of Human Rights of the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, in collaboration with experts from Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. The curriculum, among other objectives, examines a series of significant rulings in comparative law included in the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression database. The course is free and open to the  public, and lectures are in Spanish. The first edition of the course is running from January 24 to May 27, 2022 with 5,400 participants and is now closed. Stay tuned for registration information for the next edition, which will run from May 30 to September 30, 2022.

● The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), together with two individuals affected by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) presented Věra Jourová, Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency of the European Commission with a petition signed by over 200,000 supporters. The petition called for a strong EU anti-SLAPP law “to protect democratic values, such as freedom of expression and the right to protest across the EU” arguing that “an anti-SLAPP EU directive, as detailed in the Model EU Directive drafted by the CASE coalition, would provide a high and uniform level of protection against SLAPPs in all EU countries and serve as a model across the continent.”

Decisions this Week

United States
B.W.C. v. Williams
Decision Date: March 5, 2021
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Kansas City, that school vaccination requirements did not violate religious freedom or compel speech. The plaintiffs, a group of parents (on behalf of their children), challenged a form the state of Missouri required to be filed if the parents wanted to claim a religious exemption from mandatory immunizations for school children. The parents refused to do so, resulting in disenrollment of their children from school, and subsequently filed this suit claiming that the Missouri form (“Form 11”) violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court’s ruling that Form 11 did not compel speech, restrict speech, or incidentally burden speech, and did not violate plaintiffs’ free speech rights. The Eighth Circuit also agreed with the district court’s dismissal of any hybrid rights claim stating that the plaintiffs were attempting to “mix-and- match rights to free speech”.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is completing its collection of all relevant decisions from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The following were published this week.

European Court of Human Rights
Karataş v. Turkey
Decision Date: July 8, 1999
In a 12:5 decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held Turkey responsible for the violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the conviction of Mr. Hüseyin Karataş for publishing an anthology of poems containing passages that were particularly aggressive towards Turkish authorities. The applicant was accused of separatist propaganda and charged a hefty fine and sentenced to more than one year of imprisonment. Overturning the European Commission of Human Rights’ decision, the Court held that freedom of artistic expression merits protection under Article 10. Although the applicant’s poems had a political dimension, they were not meant to address a large audience and could not be presumed to be intended to call an uprising or incite outrage and strife against the government. The Court concluded that the applicant’s conviction was a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s right to free speech and unnecessary in a democratic society, resulting in a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Erdoğdu and İnce v. Turkey
Decision Date: July 8, 1999
The European Court of Human Rights found that the Republic of Turkey had violated Article 10 of the Convention. The applicants were the editor and journalist of the monthly review Demokrat Muhalefet!. They were convicted by national courts for disseminating separatist propaganda through a controversial interview they published. The interview was with a sociologist and analysed the impact of the insurgent group Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (‘PKK’) in Turkish Society. The Court held that the conviction was a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ right to free speech protected under Article 10. The content of the interview did not incite violence or advocate for PKK in its role in the Kurdish struggle for independence. The Court concluded that the domestic authorities failed to have sufficient regard to the right of the press to criticize the government and the public’s right to be informed of perspectives different to those of the government.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Mémoli v. Argentina
Decision Date: August 22, 2013
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights did not hold Argentina responsible for the violation of the right to freedom of expression in respect of Carlos and Pablo Mémoli. However, it considered that the state failed to guarantee the right to a trial in a reasonable time and the right to property, recognized by Articles 8.1 and 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), respectively. Carlos and Pablo Mémoli were convicted on charges of defamation based on reports that they denounced the management of the Asociación Italiana de Socorros Mutuos, Cultural y Creativa “Porvenir de Italia” [an Italian Mutual Association, usually a type of civil association integrated by migrants or their descendants] and, specifically, spoke of fraud by members of the Management Committee who irregularly sold recesses in the municipal public cemetery. The Court determined that the protection of the rights to the honor and reputation of the accused by Carlos and Pablo Mémoli were sufficient grounds to prosecute them, and consequently the reasoning of the domestic court that held them responsible for defamation was in accordance with the ACHR. The Court also considered that the standards on decriminalization of expressions of public interest did not apply to this case. However, it stated that the claim for damages against them exceeded a reasonable time and, particularly, the duration of the precautionary measures had disproportionally affected their right to private property.

Manuel Cepeda Vargas v. Colombia
Decision Date: May 26, 2010
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held Colombia responsible for the violation of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the political rights of Mr. Manuel Cepeda Vargas, following his assassination. The Court also found that Mr Cepeda Vargas’ death had threatening and intimidating effects on the members of his political party, the readers of his column in Voz, and the members and voters of the Unión Patriótica. Mr. Manuel Cepeda Vargas, a senator and political leader who belonged to an opposition coalition persecuted by paramilitary and state armed forces, was murdered in 1994. Prior to his murder, he was also harassed for his publications in the newspaper Voz. The facts of the case were not diligently, effectively, or thoroughly investigated by Colombian authorities, and not every perpetrator was ultimately punished. The Court emphasized the importance of exploring the different logical lines of investigation related to the exercise of freedom of expression to determine who were the masterminds behind these crimes. It also held that to hear different voices is essential for a democracy and leads to reaching agreements that take into consideration different perspectives existing within society.

Uzcátegui and Others v. Venezuela
Decision Date: September 3, 2012
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights considered that the State of Venezuela was internationally responsible for the violation of the right to life of Néstor José Uzcátegui. It also considered that Venezuela failed to adopt reasonable and necessary measures to guarantee the effective enjoyment of the rights to personal integrity and freedom of expression of Luis Enrique Uzcátegui. Finally, it considered that the State did not guarantee the right to personal integrity of Luis Enrique Uzcátegui’s family members. Néstor José Uzcátegui was murdered by members of the Venezuelan security forces. Subsequently, his brother Luis Enrique Uzcátegui and his family were harassed, intimidated, and threatened as a result of their quest for justice for the murder. Luis Enrique, a human rights defender, used judicial means and publicly denounced the then Commander General of the Falcón State Armed Police Forces as responsible for his brother’s murder and for a series of murders carried out by “extermination groups” under his command. As a result, the commander filed a defamation suit against him. The Court held that intimidation of a person for exercising his or her right to freedom of expression, as well as the existence of criminal proceedings against him or her, their duration in time, and the official position of the person initiating the proceedings against a person for having denounced a public official, can have a deterrent effect on a person exercising his or her right to freedom of expression.

Teaching Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers

This section of the newsletter features teaching materials focused on global freedom of expression which are newly uploaded on Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers.

● The Free Speech Century
In this Carnegie Council audio podcast two leading First Amendment scholars, Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, and Geoff Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago discuss their co-edited volume The Free Speech Century. The volume of essays commemorates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”  Bollinger and Stone discuss the history of the First Amendment, current controversial issues, and contemplate how free speech principles may evolve in the future in the US and abroad.

The Free Speech Century: A Retrospective and a Guide
In 2018 Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger delivered two Clare Hall Tanner Lectures at Cambridge University. In the first lecture, Prof. Bollinger delves into the First Amendment experience and presents a summary of it prior to offering some observations about how it may be interpreted as well as understood. In the second lecture, Prof. Bollinger focuses on the present and the future, intent on interrogating three of the most important questions of the present century: “(1) Should the legacy of the last century be continued and what are its prospects given current political and global trends towards authoritarian regimes? (2) What should be the general approach to dealing with the rising importance of the Internet and its component elements, which are now widely perceived as increasingly dominant in shaping the public forum? (3) And, lastly, what are we to make of the fact that the modern world is increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent, yielding problems and issues that can only be resolved effectively through collective international action, with a new truly global communications technology to serve as a global public forum, but with vastly different competing conceptions of free speech and free press in contention? In other words, how should we think about free speech in a globalized world?”

Post Scriptum

In case you missed it…

● The recording is now available of, Chapter 1: Human Rights Standards for the Protection of Journalists in the Inter-American System & States’ Best Practices, the first part of a five-part series of workshops hosted by Global Freedom of Expression to train lawyers and journalists on regional jurisprudence, international human rights standards and best practices relating to the protection of journalists. Speakers discussed the rich history of Latin American case law on the issue of violence against journalists, focusing on the cases of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, including the recent judgment Jineth Bedoya Lima v. Colombia, that has developed important standards on matters of violence against women journalists. The recording is available in Spanish and English subtitles will be available soon.

● The recording is now available of The Knight First Amendment Institute’s event “Government Lies”, the fourth in series of public conversations exploring what the law can and should do about the problem of lies and deception in the contemporary mass public sphere. Courts in the US have widely rejected the idea that constitutional law should do anything to constrain the government’s capacity to lie, meaning that the only mechanisms available are entirely a product of legislative invention or institutional self-regulation. Speakers discussed whether there are reforms, either constitutional, legislative, or institutional, that could be made to limit the government’s capacity to lie or to mitigate the harms created by government lies.

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