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

● Project Launch: Internet Standards Almanac. ARTICLE 19 has launched the Internet Standards Almanac, a digital interactive tool to support civil society engagement in the development of global internet standards. The Almanac is designed to assist civil society organizations in identifying organisations working on internet infrastructure which are developing standards that have human rights implications. It further maps what proposals are under consideration, and their potential impact on human rights. The Almanac aims to improve the transparency of these standard developing organisations’ (SDOs) structures, operations and mandates, and ultimately enable civil society to help “shape these standards and strengthen human rights considerations in the design, development, and deployment of” internet technologies.

● Report Launch: Internet Governance Forum 2022 Report. The Report details the finding of the 17th meeting of the Internet Governance Forum which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 28 November – 2 December 2022. The theme for this year was “Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future,” to advance “an open, strong, safe and reliable Internet that can truly foster a sustainable digital future based on common values and principles.” Over 5,000 participants from 170 countries participated in 293 sessions. Organizing themes included, connecting all people and safeguarding human rights; avoiding internet fragmentation; governing data and protecting privacy; enabling safety, security, and accountability; and addressing advanced technology, including AI.

● “Calls for justice and accountability after three leading lights extinguished on the African continent.” IFEX’s January free expression round up for Africa documents an enduring culture of impunity with the tragic deaths of three journalists and human rights defenders since the beginning of the year. In Cameroon, Martinez Zogo, the director of Amplitude FM and host of the radio show Embouteillages, who often reported on corruption, was found dead with his body showing evidence of torture. In Rwanda, investigative journalist James William Ntwali was killed in a suspicious car crash. In Eswatini, Thulani Maseko, one of the founding members of the Southern Africa Defenders Human Rights Network was shot at home while watching television with his family. The public and civil society organizations, not only on the continent but also around the globe, have responded with calls for investigations and accountability. IFEX observes that “[t]he safety of journalists and human rights defenders has moved from the fringes and now has become a mainstream issue as advocates galvanise support from all sectors in their campaigns for justice.”

Decisions this Week

Cesar Acuña v. Christopher Acosta
Decision Date: January 10, 2022
The Peruvian Supreme Court of Justice sentenced journalist Christopher Acosta and Jerónimo Pimentel, director of the Penguin Random House editorial house, to two years in prison, after a defamation lawsuit filed by the leader of a political party. The Court determined that the expressions contained in the non-authorized biography book “Plata como Cancha” were not protected under the right to freedom of expression since they constituted an unlawful infringement of the right to reputation and honor of the politician. In addition, the Court declared the publisher Penguin Random House as a liable third party on the grounds that there was dependability between the defendants and the publisher.

The following seminal decisions relating to access to information in Latin America will be featured in an upcoming Special Collection paper.

Silva v. General Directorate of the Authority of Transit and Land Transportation
Decision Date: September 8, 2020
The Supreme Court of Panama granted an access to information request lodged by a congressman—before the General Directorate of the Authority of Transit and Land Transportation—, requiring specific information related to selective vehicle units (cabs) on a national level, such as the total amount of these vehicles, license plate numbers, owner’s name, E1 licenses granted (current or expired), traffic tickets, among others. The decision is the result of a habeas data procedure filed by the referred congressman against the governmental authority after the latter did not deliver the totality of the information requested within the legally established terms. In the decision, the Court determined that the partial disclosure of the information was a violation of the right of access to public information of the plaintiff and ordered the aforementioned authority to fully deliver the information requested.

González v. Ministry of Agricultural Development
Decision Date: December 27, 2011
The Supreme Court of Panama protected the right of access to information of Mr. Luis González, by ordering the delivery of public information related to land titling carried out in 1996, 1997, and 1998. González filed a habeas data proceeding against the Ministry of Agricultural Development after the deadlines established by law to provide the information he requested had expired. The Court determined that failing to provide requested information within the term established by law—or placing obstacles to delivering public information— is a violation of the right of access to information.

Campos v. National Institute of Human Rights
Decision Date: March 26, 2020
The National Council for Transparency of Chile rejected the amparo action filed by Ms. Javiera Campos against the National Human Rights Institute (INDH) to obtain information on the Valech Commissions’ database —officially known as The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture Report—  for statistical purposes. Consequently, the body confirmed the INDH’s decision refusing to provide the information due to the presence of personal and sensitive data in the context of the requested information. For the Council, this entailed a violation to the protection of personal data of the more than 38,000 victims registered in the database, since the required information concerned data about the physical and mental health of victims and the way the state affected them.

Costa Rica
Levy Virgo v. Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE)
Decision Date: December 7, 2018
The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica ordered the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) to provide information regarding the topographic profiles of a waterway in the public domain. The MINAE rejected an access to information request —requiring the aforementioned information and submitted by the plaintiff— arguing that, among other reasons, the information was confidential since its disclosure could violate the intellectual property of the mining concession that obtained the information. The MINAE also held that the information deemed confidential could be used by third parties with fraudulent purposes or be misinterpreted. The Court, abiding by the principle of maximum disclosure in environmental manners, as set by several international instruments —especially Advisory Opinion OC- 23 by the IACtHR—, considered that in the case at hand no reason justified keeping the information classified. On the contrary, the Court held that the information was public and granted access to it.

El Salvador
Cáceres v. Institute of Access to Public Information
Decision Date: October 23, 2017
The Supreme Court of El Salvador held that information regarding the trips of high-ranking government officials was of a public nature. A Salvadorean citizen filed an amparo recourse against the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAIP) for refusing to provide information regarding expenditures on advertising campaigns, trips and protocol activities of the then-president of El Salvador, Carlos Funes Cartagena, between 2009 and 2014. In its decision, the Court clarified that the information at issue was related only to the official international trips made by the former President and his wife rather than the private trips they made since the plaintiff had not requested the latter. Furthermore, the Court ordered the Court of Accounts of the Republic to carry out an audit and submit the findings on the matters discussed in the amparo that had not been published by the defendants and ordered the delivery of the information requested by the journalist who participated in the proceeding, noting that judicial information was information open to public access.

Escobar Castillo v. Investigating Judge No. 1 from El Salvador
Decision Date: June 13, 2014
The Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador granted a request for access to information of the petitioners, who solicited access to a judicial file regarding alleged corruption pertaining to former president Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez. The First Instance Court ordered to preserve the confidentiality of the information and thus denied the petitioners access. Upon review of the decision, the Supreme Court revoked the measure since it found that it was contrary to the right to access public information linked to the right to the truth.

Elías Lucana v. Mayor of the Provincial Municipality of Nazca
Decision Date: September 5, 2010
The Constitutional Tribunal of Peru ordered the Provincial Municipality of Nazca’s Mayor to deliver certified copies of the technical file relating the repair of the pavement and sidewalk of several streets in the city of  Nazca, and its public procurement process. In doing so, the Court protected the right of access to information of Julio Óscar Elías Lucana who submitted a request before the aforementioned authority requiring this information. The office of the Mayor failed to provide the required documents, which prompted Elías Lucana to sue. For the Court, the defendant did not comply with the principle of transparency by failing to deliver the information within the established term.

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.

Model Training Materials: Overview of Freedom of Expression under International Law
These Model Training Materials have been developed as part of an ongoing project by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) to foster the formation of national media lawyers’ networks, supported by UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund. They are designed as a resource for professional networks of media lawyers, freedom of expression organisations and other groups which are working to build the capacity of lawyers to defend media freedom and freedom of expression. The materials provide a template for an introductory workshop on the basic principles of freedom of expression under international human rights law. They include, a Background Reading section which can be distributed to participants; a set of exercises which can be done during a workshop or a training; sample discussion questions; and sample agendas for a 1.5 hour or one-half-day workshop based on these training materials.

Post Scriptum

n case you missed it…

Spyware and the Press. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University held a panel discussion about the threat that malicious surveillance technology poses to press freedom around the world, featuring a distinguished line up of speakers including: Carlos Dada, EL Faro; Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker; Sheila Coronel, Columbia Journalism School; Carrie DeCell, Knight Institute; and Jameel Jaffer, Knight Institute. The framework for the discussion was a lawsuit filed by the Knight Institute last year on behalf of the leading Central American news organization El Faro whose employees were victims of more than 200 Pegasus spyware attacks. Some of the questions the panel considered were, what implications does the proliferation of spyware have for press freedom, democracy, and human rights? And what can be done to hold accountable the companies that sell this technology, and the governments (and others) who use it against journalists? Read more about the event and view the archived video here.

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