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.

● MOOC Launch – International and Regional Standards Relating to Freedom of Expression. UNESCO and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, are launching a new multilingual version of their Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tailored for various judicial actors from all justice systems worldwide. The five-week, five-module online program aims to strengthen the role of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and representatives of judicial training institutes in promoting freedom of expression standards, including freedom of the press, access to information, and the safety of journalists. The MOOC also welcomes journalists, scholars, and other interested professionals to join. The course will run from May 29 until June 30, 2023, and will be available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese. Pre-register today.

● Litigation Update – SFLC.In Challenges Ban of Mobile Applications In India. assists petitioners in challenging the order that blocked 14 mobile applications, including two popular FOSS applications, ‘Element’ and ‘Biar,’ under India’s Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, at the beginning of May 2023. The ban’s premise is the alleged use of the applications by “bad actors.” Yet, according to, ‘Element’ and ‘Briar’ enabled “enhanced interoperability, reduced costs, vendor independence, greater localization and developing local growth of the IT sector in India.” The petition, filed in the High Court of Kerala, argues the order violates freedom of expression and free trade rights. The petitioners call for the ban to be lifted. On May 16, 2023, the Kerala High Court “directed the respondents to get instructions and posted the matter to 29th May 2023.” See the petition here

● Upcoming Event – No Ethics In Big Tech and NSA Comedy Night. Join comedians and experts online for a night of humor and thinking on surveillance, technology, and society. The event is hosted by No Ethics In Big Tech, a grassroots organization in the Electronic Frontier Alliance, working to promote digital rights. Some of the event’s speakers are from the Media Alliance, Veterans for Peace, Common Dreams, Google, and Electronic Frontier Foundation. They will discuss “the ethical implications of technology, the latest developments in the tech world, and the importance of a free and independent press in the age of algorithmic news feeds.” But mixing entertainment with serious talk, the event also features comedians Will Durst, Mean Dave, Chloe McGovern, and Alicia Dattner. May 20, 2023, at 6:00 pm PDT. Register here

● Upcoming Event – Report Launch: Nations In Transit 2023. Join virtually for the release of Freedom House’s report focussing on the 29 countries from Central Europe to Central Asia and their state of democracy. The researchers will present the report’s findings and have a panel discussion on the findings’ impact and the regional state of democracy. May 24, 2023, at 9:00 am ET. Register here to attend via Zoom. (The report will be released on May 24 at 12:01 am ET.)

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Ibragimova v. Russia
Decision Date: November 30, 2022
The European Court of Human Rights found that Russia had violated the right to freedom of expression of Miss Naylya Razinovna Ibragimova, who had protested the conviction of members of the political activist group Pussy Riot on August 2012. The plaintiff had stood alone on a corner of a public square holding a sign in support of Pussy Riot members and wore a balaclava, following the famous style of the group she wanted to support. She was later fined for violating the Public Events Act, that prohibits hiding one’s face in public. The Court considered that the national courts had failed to adequately consider the plaintiff’s freedom of expression rights, the symbolic nature of the balaclava use (in the context of her protest) and her lack of intention of hiding her identity from authorities.

Ekrem Can and Others v. Turkey
Decision Date: March 8, 2022
The European Court of Human Rights overturned the decision of the Court of Cassation (appellate court in Turkey) which upheld the trial court decision for convicting the Applicants who participated in a peaceful protest in a Courthouse in 2003. The European Court held that the interference with the Applicants’ right of freedom of assembly and expression was lawful under the Turkish domestic Criminal Code and there was a need to curb the freedom in the interest of public order. However, the criminal prosecution and conviction of the Applicants for a long period and the pre-trial detention for merely participating in a non-violent protest was disproportionate. The Court set aside the Turkish Court decisions and concluded that the Applicants’ rights under Article 11 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had been violated. Accordingly, compensation and costs were awarded to the Applicants.

Yezhov and Others v. Russia
September 29, 2021
The European Court of Human Rights considered that the right to freedom of expression of three Russian nationals had been violated due to their conviction for public disorder during a political demonstration. The plaintiffs had taken part in a protest that included temporarily occupying government offices, barricading themselves in and throwing leaflets, firecrackers, and waving flags outside a government building. The European Court considered that while their initial arrest and forceful removal from the government building was justified, the national courts had failed to provide “relevant and sufficient” reasons for the five-year sentence that had been laid down against the plaintiffs.

The Case of the “Klimacamp 2017”
Decision Date: May 24, 2022
The Federal Administrative Court of Germany decided that a protest camp and its infrastructural facilities both are subject to the protection of the right of freedom of assembly. In 2017, the claimants registered a protest camp (“climate camp”) as a public open-air assembly but were denied access to an additional plot to be used as an overnight accommodation area with tents and sanitary facilities. The Federal Administrative Court first found that the character of the “climate camp” as a continuous protest camp does not preclude its classification as an assembly protected by the Assembly Act and Art. 8 German Basic Law. Second, the Federal Administrative Court established that infrastructural facilities of a protest camp are subject to the direct protection of the right to freedom of assembly if they either have a substantive connection to the intended expression of opinion of the assembly or are logistically necessary for the concrete assembly (here: the protest camp) and have a direct spatial connection to it. In this case, the “climate camp” could not have been held without the infrastructure facilities on the additional plot, which was located in spatial proximity to the assembly areas. For these reasons, the Court concluded that both the “climate camp” and its infrastructural facilities are subject to the protection of the Assembly Act and the right of freedom of assembly.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Case of Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco v. Mexico
Decision Date: November 28, 2018
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Mexico had violated the human rights of eleven women who, on May 3 and 4 of 2006 had been arrested in the context of a public demonstration. The women were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, were beaten, threatened, and tortured while they were being arrested, and when they were being transferred to a detention facility and in the facility itself. They were sexually assaulted and many of them were raped. The Court found that the Mexican State violated the women’s right to personal integrity, dignity, and private life, as well as the right not to be tortured, the right to assembly, the right to personal liberty and judicial guarantees, and the right to personal integrity.

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.

Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review 44th Session Fourth Cycle for the Russian Federation
Justice for Journalists Foundation, OVD-Info, ARTICLE 19, and AccessNow submitted a Joint UPR Submission that assesses the worsening situation of freedom of expression in Russia, for the 44th Session of the Working Group. The submission examines the persecution of media workers and media outlets; criminalisation of speech and assembly and association; the use of war propaganda and incitement of hatred and violence; the use of internet shutdowns; website blocking; and the use of surveillance in violation of Russia’s obligations enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Post Scriptum

● Generative AI, ChatGPT, and Human Rights. In this interview, originally published by IFEX member Human Rights Watch (HRW), Anna Bacciarelli, Program Manager at HRW’s Technology and Human Rights division, speaks with Paul Aufiero, Senior Web Producer. They discuss the data behind generative AI and ChatGPT, concerns about privacy and data security, the systems’ (un)reliabitlity, misinformation risks, AI regulation, and how the advancing technology impacts human rights investigations. The conversation highlights “a heightened risk of surveillance, discrimination, and a lack of accountability for when things go wrong” and calls for tech companies and regulators to consider the technology’s misuse possibilities and its greater scrutiny by independent actors.

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