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

● You say protection, I say surveillance: Undermining privacy rights in the Americas. IFEX’s Regional Editor Laura Vidal has prepared a special round up on surveillance in the Americas. According to the findings, the use of Pegasus spyware is still out of control, especially by authoritarian governments, and no serious action has been initiated to “regulate its use in any meaningful way, something that has been called for by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights through its Special Rapporteur.” Of particular note are “sustained efforts by governments to install massive surveillance and face recognition systems, without public consultation or participation, using technology developed outside of the region, with little understanding of the context of use.”

● Job Opportunity: PhD position Humor and Free Speech.  The University of Groningen in the Netherlands is offering a 48-month PhD position (full time, 1.0 FTE) within the project “Forensic Humor Analysis: Rethinking Offensive Humor and Its Legal Regulation”, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) with a five-year Vidi grant (Principal Investigator: Dr Alberto Godioli, University of Groningen). The appointed candidate will have an expertise in humanities-based humor research – with particular regard to literary, cultural and/or linguistic approaches to humor –, as well as a strong interest in working within an interdisciplinary context.

● Upcoming Event: Freedom of the Press and Democracy Under Attack in Guatemala. Join The Inter-American Dialogue, Fundamedios, and Voces del Sur for this online event which will explore the implications of the recent arrest of award winning journalist José Rubén Zamora on freedom of expression, and the strengthening of an already authoritarian regime. Zamora, founder of the newspaper elPeriódico and outspoken critic of the Guatemalan government, was arrested on 29 July 2022 under bogus charges of money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling. There is no registration necessary, you can stream the event on the Dialogue’s Youtube account. Please note this event will be held in Spanish.

Decisions this Week

Soledad María Granda Castañeda and Others v. Presidency of Colombia and Others
Date of Decision: September 22, 2020
The Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia revoked the decision by the Civil Chamber of the Superior Court of the Judicial District of Bogotá, and ordered the various government agencies involved in the management of public demonstrations to adopt a series of actions to guarantee the exercise of the right to peaceful protest in the country. The Civil Cassation Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice granted the tutela – a constitutional claim for the protection of human rights – filed by a number of individuals and organizations from different sectors, who stated that their fundamental rights had been infringed – in particular, their right to peaceful protest, to life, to personal integrity, to civic participation, to due process of law, to “not being forcibly disappeared”, to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly, and to freedom of movement.

Russian Federation
The Case of Sergei Zhigarev
Decision Date: December 3, 2019
The Odintsovo City Court in Moscow, Russia held that a news article discredited the reputation of a politician and ordered its removal. The politician had approached the Court, arguing that an article published online, which alleged he had violated the ethics code of the Russian Parliament, was both false and discredited his reputation as a political figure. The Court held that even though it could not determine the owner of the information it was entitled to order that the website which published that false information remove the offending information. The politician had also succeeded in getting the article removed from search results on the Russian search engine Yandex on the grounds of his right to be forgotten.

The Case of SOVA Center
Decision Date: March 26, 2019
The Russian Constitutional Court held that the legal provisions obliging search engines to remove information at the request of citizens were permissible. A non-governmental organization had approached the courts after it had been informed by Google that two of its website articles had been removed from search results following requests from individuals. The organization argued that the provisions requiring such a removal of information infringed the constitutionally-protected rights to freedom of thought and speech and to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information. The Court held that the law protects individuals’ right to be forgotten and that the provisions ensure a balance between the rights to freedom of expression and access to information with individuals’ privacy rights.

European Court of Human Rights
Uzeyir Jafarov v. Azerbaijan
Decision Date: January 29, 2015
The European Court of Human Rights held that Azerbaijan violated the journalist Jafarov’s procedural rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. By failing to conduct an effective criminal investigation into a violent attack on the journalist, Azerbaijan failed to guarantee the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention. The European Court of Human Rights stated that Azerbaijan has a general duty to conduct effective official investigations into an “arguable claim” of a violation of Article 3 of the Convention. This includes an effective investigation. The Court furthermore reiterated that States have a positive obligation to “create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all the persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear”.

UN Human Rights Committee
Njaru v. Cameroon
Decision Date: March 19, 2007
The UN Human Rights Committee found a breach of the Author’s rights to freedom of expression, as well as his rights to be free of torture, to liberty and security of the person. The Author, a journalist and well-known human rights advocate, was, over a six-year period between 1997 and 2003, repeatedly arrested, assaulted and subjected to various other forms of physical mistreatment and threats. Those acts were undertaken by State agents, mainly police. On several occasions the perpetrators explicitly linked their acts to the Author’s published articles and even ordered him to stop writing such articles. Several complaints by the Author to prosecutors and other oversight bodies were not acted upon. The UN Human Rights Committee held that these acts breached the Author’s right to freedom of expression since they were clearly linked to his published articles and could never be justified as restrictions on this right. The Committee ordered Cameroon to prosecute those responsible for crimes against the Author, and to provide him with protection in the future and with compensation.

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.

A Taxonomy of Internet Shutdowns: The Technologies Behind Network Interference
This report by AccessNow “outlines the various technical mechanisms for implementing a shutdown and the options for mitigating each type. The aim is that technologists and civil society groups working to end shutdowns will find it a valuable technical resource to understand, prepare for, circumvent, and help document deliberate network disruptions. It is intended to deepen the knowledge of technologists and digital helpdesk practitioners seeking to understand how shutdowns work and mitigate their impact. A glossary is available at the end of the document for a brief explanation of acronyms and technical terms used throughout.”

Post Scriptum

● New Book: Constitutionalising Social Media. This book edited by Edoardo Celeste, Amélie Heldt, and Clara Iglesias Keller “explores to what extent constitutional principles are put under strain in the social media environment, and how constitutional safeguards can be established for the actors and processes that govern this world: in other words, how to constitutionalise social media.” The book comprises sixteen chapters written by “a multi-disciplinary group of experts from law, political science, and communication studies to examine the challenges of constitutionalising what today can be considered the modern public square.”

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