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

● New Special Collection Paper – Transparency in the Spotlight: Global Case-law on Access to Public Information. This paper analyzes more than 100 emblematic cases where judges or specialized bodies granted access to the requested information and applied international human rights standards. Full summaries of these decisions are now available in the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression database. The paper delves into the specifics of each case while offering a comparative and reasoned perspective of its relevance, in the hope that future legal practitioners can apply these standards when facing similar cases. The second section briefly presents Claude Reyes et al. v. Chile, a land-mark ruling delivered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2006, which has set standards in the region. The third section expands on some of the basic human rights standards concerning access to public information and the fourth section presents how global courts and specialized bodies have balanced the right to access public information with other human rights.

 MOOC Launch – New Bonavero Institute-UNESCO Multilingual Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Freedom of Expression. Tailored for judicial actors from around the world, the course aims to strengthen the role of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and representatives of judicial training institutes in promoting freedom of expression standards. The MOOC will consist of five weekly modules covering the right to access to information, the safety of journalists, and digital challenges to freedom of expression. The program will run from May 29 until June 30, 2023. Led by human rights experts, the course will be available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese. Pre-register here.

● Upcoming Event – Convergence: Panel Discussions on Software Patents and Digital India Act. Convergence will host two panel discussions and the “Software Patents in India – Law and Practice” report launch. Starting with India’s Trojan Horse in the Land of FOSS, the panel will “explore the increasing number of software patents being granted despite the explicit exception, their impact on innovation and development in India, and the disparities in the number of software patents granted.” Focusing on the Digital India Act, the second panel, India’s Tech-xistential Questions: Identifying and Predicting Regulatory Patterns, will “delve into the transformative undercurrents of the techno-legal space in India.” April 18, 2023, from 10 am – 4:00 pm IST. Register here to attend online.

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Üçdağ v. Turkey
Decision Date: August 31, 2021
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the conviction of an imam, who was charged with disseminating propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization for the content posted on his Facebook account, violated his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention. The applicant was accused of condoning, praising, and encouraging the use of violent and coercive methods in posts published on his Facebook account in 2015 and 2016, during military operations conducted under curfews by security forces in southeast Turkey. The Court found that the domestic authorities did not properly balance the applicant’s freedom of expression with the legitimate aims of the interference, violating their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention. The government failed to demonstrate that the reasons put forward by the domestic courts to justify the interference were both relevant and sufficient, and that the applicant’s conviction was necessary in a democratic society.

Silveira v. São Paulo State Treasury Office
Decision Date: June 10, 2021
The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil held that the State is liable for injuries to journalists caused by police action when covering protests. A journalist was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet when covering a protest and lost 90% of his vision in that eye. He sought compensation from the State and was successful in the first instance court. When the second instance court overturned the decision, holding that the State was not liable, he appealed to the Supreme Federal Court. The Court examined the rights to freedom of the press and to work, and the UN guidelines on the use of less-lethal law enforcement mechanisms, and awarded the journalist compensation for medical expenses, loss of earnings and pain and suffering.

SINDIPETRO AL SE v. Office of the General Counsel for the Federal Government
Decision Date: December 15, 2020
The Supreme Federal Court in Brazil held that the dissemination of information about a planned protest serves as sufficient prior notice to law enforcement authorities. A group of social movements planned a protest on a Brazilian highway and advertised the protest in their organisational material. The Federal Highway Police were aware of the planned protest and informed the General Counsel for the Federal Government, which then sought an interdict against the protest. Although the interdict was granted, the social movements went ahead with the protest and then sought a revocation of that interdict. That revocation was denied and the social movements were fined for having conducted the interdicted protest and they then approached the Supreme Federal Court. The Court emphasized the importance of public participation and that the reality that this will lead to a moderate impact on the state. The Court held that the protest and the manner of notification was protected by the constitutional right to a peaceful protest.

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.

UNESCO Guide for Amicus Curiae Interventions in Freedom of Expression Cases
This guide prepared by Peter Noorlander for UNESCO offers “practical information and guidance to civil society organisations considering intervening in cases before national or international courts as so-called ‘amicus curiae’ or ‘third party intervener’. It is focused on interventions concerning freedom of expression and the safety of journalists” but the principles could be applied to human rights cases more broadly. The guide consists of six sections covering the most important aspects of preparing interventions, such as strategic consideration and technical requirements, recommendations on how to monitor cases and communicate with parties, and examples in the form of case studies.

Post Scriptum

● Issue Briefs – The International Forum for Democratic Studies: Defining Global Challenges to Democracy. Ahead of the Summit for Democracy, the Forum has released a series of briefing papers. Addressing the challenges that authoritarian regimes pose in the information environment, Safeguarding Integrity of the Information Space explores key principles for response: transnational cooperation, research on rapidly evolving trends, and usage of AI and machine learning tools. Leveraging Technology for Democracy targets such challenges as state surveillance, Internet control, and global norm shifts regarding digital repression. Here the key response principles listed are partnership and coalition building, new norms development, and the address of knowledge and capacity gaps.

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