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

● Upcoming Event: Strategic Litigation as a Tool for the Protection of Human Rights- analyzing cases from the Republic of Georgia. Join the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice for a presentation by Mari Kapanadze, Civil and Political Rights Program Director, Georgia Democracy Initiative. Kapanadze will discuss a range of the cases she has worked on, in particular, those involving the protection of different vulnerable groups such as LGBTQ+ activists and journalists. She will share her insights based on more than nine years monitoring cases of discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes; litigating strategic cases; and advocating for changes in legislation and practice. The event is co-sponsored with the HRAP, Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. February 28, 2023 12:30PM – 1:30 PM ET. Register for the online event here.

●  Upcoming Event: The Collapse of Freedom of Expression: A Round Table. Join Global Freedom of Expression and Columbia Journalism School for a discussion with Jordi Pujol about his new book The Collapse of Freedom of Expression: Reconstructing the Roots of Modern Liberty. In his book, Professor Pujol examines the sustainability of the free speech liberal tradition through emblematic cases from the U.S. and Europe that show some important fractures within the liberal tradition of freedom of expression: weaponization of speech, the threat of new orthodoxies banning dissent and compelling speech, or a new-school censorship on the internet, among others. Paradoxically, multiple court cases in the U.S. contradict the general support of Free Speech rights, which challenge the foundational principles of the liberal tradition such as tolerance, neutrality of the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas. A panel of scholars from different disciplines will discuss the architecture of Freedom of Expression and the threats to its sustainability in the digital age. Discussants include, Richard R. John, Professor of History and Communications (Columbia University); Michael Schudson, Professor of Journalism and (affiliated faculty) Sociology (Columbia University); and Hawley Johnson, Associate Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. March 9, 2023 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET. Register for this hybrid event here.

● New Podcast: Taming the Titans. ARTICLE 19 has launched a new podcast series on Big Tech, human rights, and monopoly power. The episodes will explore a range of questions including, how did a handful of companies come to dominate our digital lives? What does it mean for us and how might we take that power back? In particular, the series will consider whether anti-monopoly and competition law can tame Big Tech. Episodes in this five-part series include, The March to Monopoly, From Big Tech to Titan Tech, Hope on the Horizon, and Big Brother vs Big Other. Companion policy papers are also posted.

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Saure v. Germany
Decision Date: November 8, 2022
The Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in a majority judgment (four votes to three), found no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in a case where a journalist was denied access to review classified document in person.  He did, however, receive a summary of requested information from an intelligence service. The ECtHR decided that the right to receive information was not an absolute right and states, in terms of national security, enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation. There were no fundamental flaws in proceedings before domestic authorities and the applicant omitted to elaborate the particular reasons why it was essential for him to get a physical access to see the files. Thus, no violation of Article 10 of the ECHR occurred.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Deras García and Others v. Honduras
Decision Date: August 25, 2022
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the State of Honduras responsible for the extrajudicial execution of trade unionist activist Herminio Deras García as well as for infringing his rights to life, personal integrity, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association, and his political rights. Additionally, the Court held the State responsible for the persecution, illegal detentions, ill-treatment and torture, and raids of Mr. Deras García’s family members. Mr. Deras García was the leader of the Communist Party of Honduras and a trade unionist who was persecuted and ultimately executed in 1983 by the military. In its decision, the Court found that Mr. Deras García’s execution, the raids on his home, and the persecution of his family were deliberate acts directed to silence his voice of opposition and stop his political and trade union activism. The Court held that the State failed to comply with its obligations to investigate and prosecute with due diligence since the government authorities did not investigate the other two suspects involved in the murder.

AstraZeneca S.A. v. Transparency Council
Decision Date: May 12, 2022
The Court of Appeals of Santiago upheld a decision by the Chilean Transparency Council which ordered the disclosure of the contracts signed by the Ministry of Health with pharmaceutical companies for the acquisition of vaccines against COVID-19. AstraZeneca S.A. appealed the order arguing that the information was protected by commercial secrecy and that its disclosure could harm the acquisition and delivery of vaccines. The Court argued that the Subsecretary of Public Health, as well as the pharmaceutical companies, failed to prove a pressing concern or probable harm and with sufficient specificity to the national interest or to public health. Thus, the Court fully affirmed the grounds of the Transparency Council’s decision and rejected the appeal.

The Case of M.T.C. v. Public Prosecutor
Decision Date: January 10, 2022
The Supreme Court of Italy found that mocking the physical appearance of a politician by distorting his surname on a badge, in the context of protesting against his public housing policy, was not a lawful manifestation of the right to satire. The Court found that in the present case, despite the satirical intent, the slur could not be understood as a critique of public policy but rather constituted a gratuitous insult resulting in personal contempt. Considering this, the Court rejected the appeal of M.T.C. against the decision of the Judge of First Instance of Crema, which had found him guilty of defamation.

Guillermo Domingo Alonso v. Ministry of Defense
Decision Date: December 3, 2021
The Agency for Access to Public Information (AAIP) ordered the Ministry of Defense to deliver information that had been classified as secret by a military dictatorship 55 years earlier. The Agency held that the Ministry of Defense violated the petitioner’s right of access to information based on a generic or excessively broad legal norm that contravened international standards on the matter. The petitioner Guillermo Domingo Alonso requested a copy of Resolution No. 227 of May 15, 1970, issued by the Ministry of National Defense in the context of a military government. The Ministry denied the request to release the document because it was of a confidential nature, thus constituting one of the exceptions to the obligation to provide the information. The Agency held that the Ministry of Defense’s denial violated the Law on Access to Public Information and international standards for having classified as restricted information for an unreasonable period of 55 years. Furthermore, it held that the Ministry used an excessively broad and generic standard without explaining the necessity and proportionality of its refusal to provide the resolution requested by the petitioner.

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.

Whistleblowers and freedom to impart and to receive information
In this factsheet, the European Court of Human Rights discusses the judgement of Halet v. Luxembourg, where the Court “reiterated that the protection enjoyed by whistle-blowers under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights was based on the need to take account of features that were specific to the existence of a work-based relationship: on the one hand, the duty of loyalty, reserve and discretion inherent in the subordinate relationship entailed by it, and, where appropriate, the obligation to comply with a statutory duty of secrecy; on the other hand, the position of economic vulnerability vis-à-vis the person, public institution or enterprise on which they depended for employment and the risk of suffering retaliation from them. The Court also pointed out that, to date, the concept of “whistle-blower” had not been given an unequivocal legal definition and that it had always refrained from providing an abstract and general definition. Thus, the question of whether an individual who claimed to be a whistle-blower benefited from the protection offered by Article 10 of the Convention called for an assessment which took account of the circumstances of each case and the context in which it occurred.” In rendering its decision the Court relied on standards established in Guja v. Moldova and then the Court further took the opportunity to “refine the criteria” in their case law to reflect the important role whistleblowers play in democratic society.

Post Scriptum

● Shielding Democracy: Civil Society Adaptations to Kremlin Disinformation about Ukraine
A new report from the International Forum for Democratic Studies examines how civil society organizations within Ukraine and across Central and Eastern Europe have countered Russian disinformation about the full-scale invasion. Authors Adam Fivenson (International Forum), Galyna Petrenko (Detector Media), as well as Veronika Víchová and Andrej Poleščuk (European Values Center for Security Policy) explore responses to Moscow’s multipronged campaign to manipulate the information space and how democratic actors are working together across borders to shield democracy from authoritarian disinformation and its malign impacts. The product of dozens of interviews and a series of convenings with experts from across Europe, this report identifies critical advantages—preparation since 2014, cooperation between civil society and with governments, and the use of new technologies—that have been integral to Ukraine’s resilience and may hold lessons for others grappling with authoritarian efforts to distort the information space.

In case you missed it…

● EngelliWeb 2021: The Year of the Offended Reputation, Honour and Dignity of High Level Public Personalities. The English translation of the Turkish Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD – İfade Özgürlüğü Derneği) latest report is now available. The EngelliWeb 2021 Report is a continuation of the EngelliWeb 2018, 2019 and 2020 reports. The report documents how thousands of news articles and other content of public interest are censored and thereby destroyed through access-blocking and take-down orders as a result of an increasing number of court decisions finding “violations of personal rights” of high level public personalities. The 2021 EngelliWeb Report includes an overview of and considerations on increasing Internet censorship and access blocking practices in Turkey by the end of 2021.

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