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

● Registration for European Anti-SLAPP Conference is now open! The conference hosted by The European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) will examine European and national political and other initiatives against SLAPPs, to bring to light its impact on journalism and to discuss available financial and practical support for journalists targeted by SLAPPs. The conference will bring together CASE coalition members, SLAPP victims, experts, journalists, media professionals, lawyers, policymakers, free speech advocates, academics, ombudspersons, judges, and civil society representatives. Winners will also be announced of the second European SLAPP Contest. This hybrid conference will offer in-person participation in Strasbourg and will also be live streamed. View the agendaconference website and Register Here.

● Report Launch: America’s Censored Classrooms. PEN America’s latest report documents Educational gag orders which are state legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K–12 and higher education. PEN America tracks these bills in their Index of Educational Gag Orders, updated weekly. The report analyzes 137 educational gag orders introduced in 36 states so far in 2022, comparing them to the 54 gag order bills filed in 22 states in 2021. They found a 250 percent increase compared to 2021. According to the report, most gag order bills in 2022 have continued to target teaching about race, but a growing number have also targeted LGBTQ+ identities. This year’s bills also contained more and harsher punishments for schools and teachers, and they contained more restrictions on colleges and even on private schools.

● Report Launch: Afghanistan’s media crisis one year after the Taliban’s return to power. The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a special report about how the “Taliban’s August 2021 takeback of power in Afghanistan has devastated the vibrant media landscape that developed after the U.S.-led invasion 20 years earlier. Between censorship, arrests, assaults, restrictions on women journalists, the flight of experienced reporters, and the country’s declining economy, Afghan media are struggling to survive.” The report also provides some positive news on how “Afghan journalists are finding ways to keep covering the news–either from inside the country or from their places of exile. The report includes comprehensive policy recommendations for the protection of journalists and press freedom in Afghanistan.”

We are taking a short break and the newsletter will return the week of 5 September!

Decisions this Week

Nicolás Souto Gancio v. Ministry of Public Health
Decision Date: May 24, 2022
The Supreme Court of Justice from Uruguay granted access to information regarding the number of people who died in the country that previously had received a vaccine against COVID-19. The applicant filed an access to public information petition against the Ministry of Public Health asking for the number of people who died in Uruguay for any reason, from March 1 to April 26 of 2021, specifying how many of these people had received, at the time of their death, COVID-19 vaccines, with the indication of date, quantity of doses and type of vaccines administered. The Ministry of Public Health denied access to the information arguing that they were not obligated to “create new information” as the data was scattered among various databases. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeals of 7th Turn noting that the fact that the Ministry had to collect the data from various sources under their control does not entail the creation of new information. The Court ruled that limitations to access to public information must be interpreted narrowly and therefore the collection of data available from different sources cannot exempt public institutions from their transparency obligations.European Court of Human Rights
Oganezova v. Armenia
Decision Date: May 17, 2022
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found a violation of ECHR Article 3 (Prohibition of torture) taken in conjunction with Article 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) in a case of continued attacks on the applicant Ms Armine Oganezova, a prominent LGBTI activist from Armenia. Attacks included, inter alia, an arson attack on her club, online hate speech comments and death threats. Due to these circumstances the applicant had to flee to Sweden to seek asylum. The ECtHR opined that the state did not fulfill its positive obligations regarding the protection of the applicant from homophobic attacks and especially in the terms of criminal investigation and criminal punishment of the perpetrators. The Court noted in particular the “absence of [an] effective domestic criminal-law mechanism for investigating discrimination complaints.”Balaskas v. Greece
Decision Direction: November 5, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the suspended prison sentence imposed on a journalist for insulting a school headmaster in response to his publicly expressed views had been contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), Art. 10. The application was brought by a journalist, and at the time editor-in-chief of the Lesbos daily newspaper Empros, following his criminal conviction for insult through the press and six-months suspended prison sentence. The national courts found that the Applicant had tarnished the honor and reputation of the headmaster of a high school by characterizing him as a “neo-Nazi” and “theoretician of the entity ‘Golden Dawn’” in an article. The ECtHR found that the national authorities failed to assess the case according to the criteria established in the Court’s case-law and that the interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression was not “necessary in a democratic society”.Miljević v. Croatia
Decision Date: June 25, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that conviction for defamation for statements made in the context of defence in another set of criminal proceedings was contrary to the right to freedom of expression conferred by Art. 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The application was brought by Mr. Rade Miljević following his criminal conviction for defamation in connection with statements made in the closing arguments of criminal proceedings on charges of war crimes. The national courts found that the applicant had made defamatory statements against I.P. by accusing I.P. of witness tampering in a criminal procedure. The ECtHR highlighted the paramount importance of freedom of expression of the accused while presenting their defence in criminal proceedings without being fearful of a subsequent threat of proceedings for defamation. The ECtHR found that by convicting the applicant for defamation the national courts failed to strike a fair balance between ECHR Articles 10 and 8.

Russian Federation
The Case of Daria Tokareva
Decision Date: May 27, 2020
A Magistrates Court in Moscow, Russia held that an editor of a television channel’s website had allowed dissemination of knowingly unreliable socially significant information to take place under the guise of a reliable message, posing a threat of harm to the life and health of citizens, and/or a threat of mass disruption of public order and safety. Roskomnadzor – Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media – had identified a publication of concern and compiled an administrative protocol against the editor. Roskomnadzor found that the publication contained misleading information about COVID-19. The Magistrates Court agreed, stressing that although freedom of expression was a constitutionally-protected right, it could be limited to prevent the spread of misleading information which pose threats to the country. It held that the editor was liable for any publication on the website, even if the publication relayed the opinion of an expert.

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.

Guidelines for Prosecutors on Cases of Crimes against Journalists
These guidelines prepared by Sabin Ouellet for UNESCO and the International Association of Prosecutors aim to provide a deeper understanding of the theoretical frameworks underpinning the right to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. To develop additional skills to put this theory into practice, the Guidelines seek to “enhance the knowledge and capacities of prosecutors by providing insight on the conduct or supervision of investigations and advisory assistance to law enforcement agencies.” This is done by “identifying stages and determination for proceedings in cases of crimes against journalists, and preserving the integrity of evidence; emphasizing the importance of protecting journalistic sources; discussing the protection of victims, witnesses, immunities, and advantages for collaborating witnesses;  examining the issue of mutual legal assistance in criminal matter and extradition; recognizing the specificities of gender-based crimes and other forms of hate crimes on journalists, and analyzing post-conflict jurisdictions and transitional justice issues.”

Post Scriptum

● 7amleh obtains consultative status at the United Nations. IFEX reports that 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media has received consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Affairs Council (ECOSOC), which was decided through a vote on 22nd July 2022 at the council meeting in New York. According to IFEX, “[a]s a consultative member of ECOSOC, 7amleh will provide insights and expertise with regards to Palestinian digital rights, the MENA region, and how Palestinians are impacted by digital policy both online and offline. This will bring 7amleh closer to its goals of creating a safe, fair and free digital space through building the civil society organizations’ capacities in the field of digital advocacy, digital safety and activism, monitoring and documenting digital rights violations against Palestinians carried out by various perpetrators in online spaces, including technology companies and different governments.”

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