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.

● Upcoming Event – U.S. v. Trump: The Big Lie on Trial. What the indictments mean for our democracy. The Brennan Center for Justice is hosting a special virtual event in response to former President Trump’s indictments in federal and Georgia courts. Moderated by Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center, the discussion will feature Sean Morales-Doyle, Director of the Brennan Center Voting Rights Program, Gowri Ramachandran, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center Elections & Government Program, and Andrew Weissmann, NYU School of Law Profesor and MSNBC Legal Analyst. The speakers will cover “the Big Lie of a ‘stolen’ election” and how Trump’s indictments will impact American democracy, affecting “voting rights, racial justice, executive powers, checks and balances, and so much more.” Join online on Wednesday, August 23, at 3 p.m. ET. Register here.

●   India Supreme Court calls for harmony, condemns hate speech amid Haryana unrest.JURIST reports India’s Supreme Court has responded to escalating conflicts in Haryana’s regions of Nuh and Gurugram by foregrounding people’s right to protest yet raising concerns over hate speech and violence. At the end of July 2023, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s organized procession was prevented from reaching a temple in Nuh district. Unrest and violence ensued. Hearing a petition that sought to stop the rallies, the Supreme Court declined to impose a stay order but issued “directives to the State government and the Delhi police to ensure that the protest rallies remained free from hate speech or violence.” In the meantime, Haryana’s government has implemented an internet ban in the region. The Supreme Court is scheduled to address the Haryana unrest matter again on August 18.

●  Assessing India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Bill. A new episode of The Sunday Show, a podcast of Tech Policy Press, unpacks India’s recently approved data protection law – the Digital Personal Data Protection Act. The Act establishes a data protection board and empowers the government “to request information from companies and to issue orders to block content.” Justin Hendrix, Co-Founder and CEO of Tech Policy Press, talks to independent technology journalist Aditi Agrawal, The Dialogue’s tech policy expert Kamesh Shekar, and Prateek Waghre, Policy Director at the Internet Freedom Foundation. They discuss the Act and other tech policy laws and express their concerns over India’s new law and its administration which is yet to take place. Tune in on the podcast service of your choice.

●  Media Freedom in South-East Europe Faces Escalating Digital Threats,by Mat Mastracci. In the latest monthly review of digital violations in Europe’s southeast, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network puts a spotlight on Turkey and Croatia, while listing threats, intimidation, and misinformation attacks against journalists across the region. Evaluating the newly proposed Media Law in Croatia, experts fear the government might utilize the law as a tool of unprecedented control and censorship. In the meantime, Turkey’s space for independent journalism shrinks, as online censorship tightens its grip: Reuters is in a lawsuit battle over a taken-down investigation concerning President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son. Throughout the region, journalists and media outlets continue facing intimidation and attacks in Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Romania.

Decisions this Week

Republic of Georgia
Kh. Sh. v. Batumi City Division of Adjara a/r Regional Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia
Decision Date: March 23, 2023
The Appellate Court of Kutaisi, Georgia found a person guilty of posting derogatory and insulting content on his private Facebook profile in posts criticizing police officers in Batumi City division. The author of the post had written the posts after his child had been mistreated by the police officers and was then charged with administrative offences of petty hooliganism and abusive acts against law-enforcement. The lower court had found the person guilty and imposed a fine. The Appellate Court found that the “public space” included virtual spaces, such as Facebook and that the administrative offences justifiably limited the person’s freedom of expression because they sought to protect public order.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Baraona Bray v. Chile
Decision Date: November 24, 2022
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR ) found that Chile violated the right to freedom of expression, under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, of Mr Carlos Baraona Bray —an advocate for environmental causes who was convicted by national courts for accusing a politician of supporting deforestation. Carlos Baraona Bray was criminally convicted by domestic courts for defamation after accusing a Chilean senator of having exercised political pressure on public authorities to allow the indiscriminate deforestation of the larch tree. For the IACtHR, statements or opinions on environmental issues and the role of public officials deserve special protection in a democratic society because they are of public interest. On this basis, the Court held that the sanctions imposed on Baraona Bray had a chilling effect by inhibiting him from expressing opinions on matters of public interest and constituted an indirect means of restricting freedom of expression in its individual and social dimensions. In turn, the Court held that Article 417 of the Criminal Code, which was used to convict Mr. Baraona Bray in Chile, did not comply with the requirement of “legality” established in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, since it did not clarify the prohibited conduct, as it refers to overly broad concepts, such as accusing someone of vice or immorality.

Leguizamón v. Paraguay
Decision Date: November 15, 2022
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the State of Paraguay was responsible for the murder of journalist Santiago Leguizamón Zaván and violated the personal and collective right to freedom of thought and expression, as enshrined in Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights. On April 26, 1991, Mr. Leguizamón Zaván was shot and killed. That same day a criminal proceeding was initiated to investigate the murder, but due to various irregularities in the process, the fourteen persons investigated were not tried. After more than fifteen years since the journalist’s homicide, on January 19, 2007, the Inter-American Press Association filed a petition before the Inter-American System on the ground that the crime had gone unpunished. The Court held that the murder affected Mr. Leguizamón Zaván’s individual right to freedom of expression, as he could not carry on his activities as a journalist. The Court also found that the crime affected the collective dimension of the right to freedom of expression, as it had an intimidating or dissuasive effect on journalists in Paraguay.

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.

Rights in the Digital Age: Challenges and Ways forward
This paper, by Dafna Dror-Shpoliansky and the OECD Secretariat, is part of the OECD Digital Economy Papers.  As our online and offline lives become increasingly interwoven, policy makers have to consider how to protect individual interests and rights. This paper considers the impact of digital transformation on internationally recognised human rights, legal and constitutional rights, and domestically protected interests. It sets out three case studies, freedom of expression, privacy and Internet access, and provides a brief overview of current international and domestic initiatives to protect “rights in the digital age”. The paper sets the scene for further discussion on the issue and supports policy makers in designing and achieving a rights-oriented and human-centric digital transformation.

Post Scriptum

● «Digital Democracy»: A Threat to the Democratic System or Oxygenation of Representative Democracy and Free Speech? by Carlos Blanco de Morais. Tackling the question of “digital democracy,” the article argues the use of social networks for political purposes can boost representative democracy on the one hand and degrade its quality on the other. The former is possible due to public debate improvements and direct communication channels between political leaders and citizens. As for the latter, hate speech, fake news, violations of data protection rules, and other challenges pile up. To the author, “surveillance of fake or extreme online discourse must be based on balanced rules that allow public and private entities to prevent and repress the incitement or practice of serious crimes.” The article, however, insists on “avoiding the use of direct or collateral censorship aimed at shaping a single thought pattern or an index of ‘cursed’ political thoughts.”

● Fighting Fake News: How Mis- and Disinformation Legislation Is Weaponized Against Journalists, by Sasha Schroeder. Published by the Center for International Media (CIMA), the blog elaborates on the rise of so-called MDM Legislation – “legislation meant to combat misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information.” Citing “Chilling Legislation: Press Freedom and the Battle Against Fake News,” a study by Gabrielle Lim and Samantha Bradshaw, Schroeder argues MDM laws can harm journalists by their design: lacking definitional specifics and thus prompting subjective interpretations and selective enforcement. Schroeder highlights MDM laws’ proliferation and a corresponding increase in MDM-related charges brought against journalists. The blog joins Lim and Bradshaw in advocating for de-securitization and urging “that efforts to combat [MDM] laws be removed from the realm of national security.”

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