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

● Junior Lawyer/Program Assistant Position: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is recruiting a junior lawyer/program assistant to work with its team and leadership. The ideal candidate will have excellent analytical and organizational skills and the ability to communicate fluently in both English and Spanish. The Junior Lawyer will write case analyses for our Case Law Database on global judicial decisions in English and Spanish and conduct legal research on topics related to freedom of expression as requested by our leadership. Duties also include managing logistics of public and private events, and providing the leadership team with administrative support, including managing time-sensitive deadlines, scheduling requests of high-level individuals, and providing timely status updates and reports as needed. Full job posting here.

● Workshops on the Protection of Journalists: Human Rights Standards & States’ Best Practices. Over the last year, GFoE has worked to expand its case law database with coordinated research related to violence against journalists, seeking to capture and highlight judicial trends around the world. Senior researchers studied and explored new judicial decisions, pinpointing those that upheld international human rights standards and held states accountable for their actions and their obligation to prevent, protect, and punish those crimes. To promote the findings of the project, we hosted a workshop series to train lawyers, journalists, and activists on regional jurisprudence, international human rights standards, and best practices. Each workshop in the series focused on a different region(s) from around the world and allowed speakers to share their perspectives on this issue and its impact on the future of democracy. To conclude the series, GFoE organized two virtual capstone events in Spanish and in English to present the final report of our findings and principal outcomes of our research. Recordings of the workshops and the events can serve as important training tools on global protections of journalists and what is left to accomplish. View the Recordings.

● Upcoming Event: Independent journalism in the face of a perfect storm: Media freedom and the safety of journalists in the digital age. Join UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan for a conversation about her latest report to the UN Human Rights Council which examines the opportunities, challenges and threats to media in the digital age. She will also discuss the findings of her country visit to Hungary. According to her new report, “independent public interest journalism today faces a perfect storm: Threats and challenges – from online gender-based violence and orchestrated disinformation campaigns against journalists to targeted surveillance of journalists, legal restrictions on freedom of expression online and offline and erosion of media independence, pluralism and viability – are surging in a multifaceted, technology-enabled information ecosystem.” Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO will moderate the panel. HRC50 virtual side event, Monday 27 June 13:45-15:00 CET. RSVP via e-mail to receive a link to the virtual event.  

Decisions this Week

Torres Palacios v. Vice President of the Republic
Decision Date: May 21, 2021
The Colombian Constitutional Court held that the Vice President of the Republic’s public statements or opinions do not belong exclusively to the scope of freedom of expression but also to how she fulfills or exercises her duties towards the citizens. Her statements are covered by the burdens of truthfulness and impartiality, except when she defends her management, responds to critics, or expresses opinions on a political issue. A Colombian citizen filed the application to protect constitutional rights against the Vice President after the Vice President published a post on her Facebook and Twitter accounts in which she consecrated the country to the Lady of Fátima. The Court held that the Vice President of the Republic violated the principle of secularism on which the Colombian state is based. It urged her to avoid linking her personal opinions, and especially expressions of her faith, to the institution she represents. Moreover, she  must respect the principle of secularism and the guarantee of the fundamental rights to freedom of religion and worship and freedom of conscience.

European Court of Human Rights
Yuriy Chumak v. Ukraine
Decision Date: March 18, 2021
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled the government of Ukraine interfered with the Applicant’s rights to freedom of expression for denying the Applicant access to information requested about the titles, numbers, and dates of Presidential decrees labelled restricted. Yuriy Chumak, a journalist, member of a non-governmental organization and the deputy editor of the organization’s bulletin “Human Rights”, made a written request to the Ukrainian authorities for information about presidential decrees marked as “confidential”. The Ukraine authorities denied the applicant access to the requested information aand various domestic courts dismissed his further appeal challenging the denial. In a 5:2 decision, the ECtHR held that the domestic authorities and the various courts failed to demonstrate how the interferences with the Applicant’s rights were necessary and proportionate. The lack of analysis conducted by the national courts revealed a “procedural dysfunction” which precluded further analysis on the lawfulness of the restrictions and the legitimacy of the aims. The dissenting Judges argued that Yuriy Chumak’s application was manifestly ill-founded.

Kishorchandra Wangkhem v. District Magistrate, Imphal West
Decision Date: April 8, 2019
The High Court of Manipur in India released on bail, the journalist, Kishorchandra Wangkhem, who was detained under Section 3(2) of the National Security Act, 1980 (NSA). The Court found that the pictures and video clips that were posted by him on Facebook that formed the basis for arrest and detention were not supplied to him and therefore, the detention order was vitiated. Under Section 3(2) the NSA, a person can be detained at the satisfaction of the government to prevent any person from acting in a manner prejudicial to national security or public order. Kishorchandra Wangkhem was arrested on August 09, 2018 for defamation and statements promoting enmity between classes by the Manipur police for pictures with captions he posted on Facebook criticising the government two days prior. On the next day, he was released on bail. He was subsequently arrested again, and then detained on the ground that he was a habitual offender who committed offences that “cause fear and alarm to the public”. To ensure that he doesn’t commit these offences again, an “alternative preventive measure” had to be taken. The Manipur High Court found that the detaining authority had not supplied Wangkhem the copies of Facebook posts and compact disc containing the videos uploaded by him, thereby preventing the journalist from making an effective representation against the detention order. Thus the Court directed Wangkhem to be released.

Google v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos
Decision Date: April 23, 2019
Spain’s National High Court reversed a ruling of Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) in relation to three complaints alleging that Google was communicating its de-indexed search engine results to third parties. In 2016, the AEPD had imposed a fine of 150,000 Euros on Google on account of its serious breach of the Data Protection Act, each time it disclosed information in relation to queries pertaining to removal of content from search engine pursuant to requests. The AEPD also held that as per Article 29 Working Party Guidelines on Consent in relation to protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data, the search engines did not have a legal obligation to inform web administrators of the reasons for deindexing and removal of content from the search engine. However, when the case reached the National High Court, it concluded that the procedure adopted by the AEDP was not the ideal legal mechanism to establish a general position on a generic type of  data processing operation.

Google Inc. v. AEPD
Decision Date: May 11, 2017
The First Section of the Administrative Chamber of the National Audience of Spain annulled a decision issued by Agencia Nacional de Protección de Datos (AEPD) that ordered Google to limit or block access to opinions on the Internet through a web search when using a well known doctor’s nameThe contested information referred to comments on online forums that criticized one Doctor Edmundo. Edmundo requested the AEPD to block his personal data, which the AEPD granted. Google initiated a legal action seeking the annulment of this decision. The First Section of the Administrative Chamber of the National Audience of Spain held that in this case, when weighed against the right to be forgotten, freedom of expression prevailed since web users and potential patients have a legitimate interest in accessing information about a prominent doctor in the medical field.

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.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and its Potential to Foster Freedom of Expression, Access to information and Safety of journalists: Guidelines for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs)
These UNESCO Guidelines were designed for National Human Rights Institutions to maximize the use of the UPR at the country level, as well as to provide practical examples for engaging with the UPR before, during and after the review. The Guidelines describe what the UPR is and its review process in detail. They also explain the role of NHRI’s in the UPR process. There are instructions for what to include in a UPR contribution in order to improve Freedom of Expression, Safety of Journalists, and Access to Information. They conclude with how to connect with other UN mechanisms.

Platform liability trends around the world: From Safe Harbours to Increased Responsibility
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published a four-part blog series surveying international intermediary liability laws. The Series first introduced some “background information and explored the global shifts in approaches to intermediary liability laws. Part Two unpacked the different approaches to intermediary liability and looked at regulatory ‘dials and knobs’ available to policymakers. Part Three looked at some new developments taking place around the world. Finally, Part Four dived into EFF’s perspective and provided some recommendations for the future of global intermediary liability policy.”

Post Scriptum

● From Dance App to Political Mercenary: How disinformation on TikTok gaslights political tensions in Kenya, a new report  by Mozilla researcher Odanga Madung documents the proliferation of hate speech and disinformation videos targeting the upcoming elections in Kenya on August 9. The research found 130 TikTok videos which “accrued over 4 million views after being shared by 33 TikTok accounts. All of them appear to violate the company’s terms of service.” Madung observes that much of the impugned videos were “’synthetic content,’ videos created to look like they might be from an old news broadcast, or screenshots that appeared to be from legitimate news outlets.”

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