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.

Global Freedom of Expression Prize Ceremony

Watch the ceremony to learn about some of the most significant court rulings upholding international standards on freedom of expression from around the world between 2020-2021, with presentations by this years winners. In the category of Significant Legal Ruling, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, spoke about the Court’s ruling in Amnesty International & Ors v. The Togolese Republicwhich recognized that internet shutdowns violate the right to freedom of expression. The winners in the Legal Services Category Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and Jonathan Bock, Executive Director, Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) both spoke about their work in representing journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in Bedoya Lima v. Colombia for the multiple violations of her rights due to her investigative work.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Upcoming Event: Chapter 4: Human Rights Standards for the Protection of Journalists in Africa/MENA Region & States’ Best Practices. Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for the fourth in a series of 6 workshops on the protection of journalists. The fourth workshop in this series will focus on regional findings in Africa and in the MENA region. Speakers will refer to and discuss relevant case law in the region related to the protections of journalists. 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 Thursday, 10 March 2022 from 9:00AM – 10:00 AM EST. Register for the online event here.

● Upcoming Event: “Lies, Free Speech and the law.” The symposium, hosted by the Knight First Amendment Institute, will explore how the law regulates or should regulate false and misleading speech. It will focus on five themes that examine the connections between lies, freedom of speech (construed broadly), and the law. These are: 1) the sociological and constitutional status of false or misleading speech; 2) defining the category of lies; 3) structural regulation and the problem of lies; 4) government lies; and 5) the deregulation of disclosure. The event will take place online for non-Columbia participants on Friday, 8 April 2022. Register here.

● 2022 Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute is currently accepting applications! The course for 2022 will focus on Technology and Policy During Times of Crisis. It will examine key issues in media law and policy- topics include AI and online content moderation of extreme speech; internet shutdowns during elections and conflict; public diplomacy in a time of mis/disinformation; big data and humanitarian interventions; social media and migration; and innovation in the global south. With the participation of speakers from around the world, the course will explore media policy in current events such as the escalating crisis in Ukraine, media development under the Taliban in Afghanistan, and online hate speech and conflict in Ethiopia. Jesus College, Oxford 1-12 August 2022. Apply Now

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Biancardi v. Italy
Decision Date: November 25, 2021
The European Court of Human Rights unanimously decided that de-indexing requests against online publishers can be successful and in the present case, did not violate the publisher’s freedom of expression protected by Article 10. The applicant was an editor-in-chief of an online newspaper that published an article describing a fight at a restaurant and the criminal proceedings that ensued. The person described in the article requested the applicant to remove and de-index the article which was not granted. The Italian courts held that by not de-indexing the article, the publisher had made the article easily accessible online for a significant period and violated the applicant’s right to reputation protected by Article 8. The ECtHR upheld the decision. It also upheld the non-pecuniary damages granted to the applicant against the editor, in consideration of the sensitive nature of the personal data published. It found that publishing supplementary or clarificatory information would be insufficient to balance the applicant’s right’s under Article 8 against the publisher’s rights under Article 10.

United States
Committee to Protect Journalists v. CIA
Decision Date: August 27, 2021
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that a Glomar response by intelligence agencies requires no degree of certainty and can be issued when there is a logical or plausible reason for the response. The case concerned an information request issued by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists (“CPJ”) inquiring about records related to Saudi national and journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The applicants filed separate Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests to five federal agencies seeking records about their duty under Intelligence Community Directive 191 to warn a person when a known threat against them is identified by an intelligence community agency. Each of the agencies, apart from the State Department, made Glomar responses, which neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents responsive to the request. They claimed the Glomar response was protected by exemption 1 of the FOIA. The Court held that a statement by the U.S. Department of State was not binding on the intelligence agencies. The Glomar response was justified since confirming or denying the existence of such records could compromise national security and foreign policy.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Hernández v. Honduras
Decision Date: March 26, 2021
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the State of Honduras responsible for the violation of Vicky Hernández’s right to freedom of expression, under article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court found there was enough evidence to consider that Hernández was murdered because of her gender identity as a trans woman and because she was a sex worker. Similarly, the Tribunal asserted that the State failed to conduct a proper investigation into her murder, without prejudices, that took into account her work as a human rights’ defender of the LGBTI community. The Court argued that identity and its expression were protected under article 13 of the American Convention. Thus in light of the events surrounding the death of Hernández, Honduras breached her right to freedom of expression, along with other rights.

hing 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.

Global Toolkit for Judicial Actors on International Legal Standards on Freedom of Expression, Access to Information and Safety of Journalists
UNESCO published a Global Toolkit which is based on a Massive Open Online Course, International Standards of Freedom of Expression, they produced in cooperation with the Bonavero Institute at the University of Oxford. The Toolkit includes five modules that discuss: 1) The International Legal Framework on Freedom of Expression; 2) The Legitimate Restrictions on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression; 3) The Right to Access Information; 4) Attacks against Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Judiciary; and 5) Freedom of Expression on the Internet.

UNESCO has also produced two video explainers, available in the 6 UN official languages and Portuguese, about the ICCPR’s Three-Part Test and the Rabat Plan of Action on the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred, in order to provide a visual representation of these complex concepts.

                 Subtitles available in: ArabicChineseEnglishFrenchPortugueseRussian, and Spanish.

                 Subtitles available in: ArabicChineseEnglishFrenchPortugueseRussian, and Spanish.

Post Scriptum

● The Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation and the Centre for Judicial Research (CEPRIS) have published a report on the protection of freedom of speech in the judicial system of Serbia – “Freedom of Expression before the Court.” The report explores final and binding judgments relating to the endangerment of safety during the period of 2017-2020. It found that claims related to threats against journalists are often dismissed, and no prison sentences were handed down for the criminal offense of endangering journalists. This was in stark contrast to alleged threats to the President or other government officials which were often prosecuted.  The report also documented a significant increase in lawsuits suspected to represent SLAPP suits.

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