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

● Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is soon launching a series of papers featuring “Special Collections” of case law from the database to provide a global outlook on some of the most significant legal decisions adopted by national and international tribunals on relevant topics regarding freedom of expression. The series will be published between February and May 2022, with individual publications on the following topics: Case Law of the Inter-American System of Human Rights; Case Law of the African System of Human and Peoples’ Rights; Case Law of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights; Privacy and Freedom of Expression; Disinformation, Misinformation and Fake News; Content Moderation on the Internet, and Violence Against Journalists. More information here.

● UNESCO is launching a new Massive Open Online Course for judicial actors titled “Upholding the Rule of Law in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” The course will explore the digitalization of justice systems; the opportunities and risks with the increasing adoption of AI technologies across justice systems and contexts such as online courts; as well as AI’s impact in the administration of justice, particularly in regard to human rights and evolving AI ethics and governance issues. This free course, available in 7 languages, will launch on 14 March 2022 and will last for six weeks. Learn more about the course, watch a promotional video and register here.

● Upcoming Event:Chapter 2: Universal Human Rights Standards and International Case-Law related to the Protection of Journalists. Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for the second in a series of 6 workshops on the protection of journalists. The second workshop in will focus on the universal human rights standards and existing international case-law related to the protection of journalists. Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte (Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión) will moderate a discussion between Toby Mendel (Centre for Law and Democracy), Joel Simon (Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School) and Silvia Chocarro (ARTICLE 19) on this issue from the perspective of the United Nations as well as the Inter-American and the European systems of human rights. They will also share their viewpoints on the main global challenges to freedom of expression related to violence against journalists. The event will take place online Friday 25 February 2022 from 10AM – 11:00 AM ET. RSVP

●  Upcoming Event: “Lies and Counterspeech.” Join the Knight First Amendment Institute for a panel discussion on whether counterspeech is a realistic solution to the problem of mass public deception today. Genevieve Lakier (Knight Institute Senior Visiting Research Scholar 2021-2022) will moderate a discussion between David Pozen (Columbia Law), Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law) and Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law) exploring “[t]o what extent can speech—disclosures, warning labels, fact checks, apologies, and/or counterspeech generally—defang the lie? And to what extent may the government constitutionally require private speakers to engage in this kind of counterspeech under contemporary precedents?” David Pozen has a companion blog “‘Truth Drives Out Lies’ and Other Misinformation.” The event will take place online Wednesday 16 February 2022 from 3:30PM – 5:00PM ET. RSVP

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Sanchez v. France
Decision Date: September 2, 2021
The Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights held that the conviction of a politician for failing to promptly delete unlawful comments published by third parties on the public wall of his Facebook account did not breach his Article 10 rights, despite his apparent lack of knowledge of the comments. The application was filed by Julien Sanchez, a local elected representative and candidate in the legislative elections, who was convicted for incitement to hatred or violence against the people of the Muslim faith. While the Court stressed the importance of protecting freedom of expression in the context of political debate, it found “the French courts’ decision to convict Mr Sanchez had been based on relevant and sufficient reasons linked to his lack of vigilance and responsiveness” in monitoring his page for comments that could violate community standards or be unlawful.

South Africa
Qwelane v. South African Human Rights Commission
Decision Date: July 30, 2021
The South African Constitutional Court held that a provision creating criminal liability for hate speech was unconstitutional but could be easily adjusted to be constitutional. After a homophobic article was published in a South African weekly newspaper, the Human Rights Commission instituted proceedings in the Equality Court, seeking a finding of hate speech. The journalist approached the courts, arguing that the provision under which the proceedings had been brought was unconstitutional as it created a broader concept of hate speech than was set out in the Constitution. The Constitutional Court accepted that the prohibition of “hurtful” speech was an unjustifiable infringement of the right to freedom of expression, but held that the hate speech provision could be made constitutional by limiting it to expression that was intended to be harmful or incite harm and promote hatred.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Grijalva Bueno v. Ecuador
Decision Date: June 3, 2021
The Inter American Court of Human Rights found that the State of Ecuador violated the right to freedom of expression of lieutenant Anibal Grijalva as enshrined in article 13.1 of the Inter-American Convention. After denouncing arbitrary detentions, tortures, enforced disappearances and killings committed by members of the Ecuadorian Navy, Grijalva was subjected to administrative and criminal proceedings. Said proceedings, the Court noted, violated Grijalva’s right to a fair trial and had a retaliatory intent against the lieutenant. According to the Court, this could have produced a chilling effect on the freedom of expression of Grijalva and other public officials willing to disclose human rights’ violations.

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.

Industry Toolkit: Children’s Online Privacy and Freedom of Expression
This Toolkit builds on UNICEF’s “Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection” and focuses on the balancing of children’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression. “It identifies five overarching principles, based in international human rights law, that should ground and shape decisions about children online. These General Principles may be translated into practical action through [a Checklist] , which offers questions and recommendations for companies to assess how children’s privacy and expression rights are considered across their websites, platforms, products, services and applications.”

Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression published the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age in April 2020. The Declaration includes a range of recommendations regarding communication during elections for both, State as well as non-State actors. It further calls on State to promote effective access to the Internet and to establish effective regulatory and institutional frameworks to safeguard access to diverse and reliable media in all sectors.

Post Scriptum

In case you missed it…

● “Who is the Guardian of Free Speech? Meta‘s Oversight Board and (other) Courts and Dispute Resolution Mechanisms” hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL), in cooperation with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, is now posted on the VölkerrechtsblogPanelists discussed 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.

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