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.

● 10 Years of UNESCO’s Judges’ Initiative: Strengthening the Rule of Law, Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists 2013 – 2023. UNESCO celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Judges’ Initiative – an innovative program that has been training judicial actors and civil society representatives on freedom of expression and its international standards, contributing to the safety of journalists around the world. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is UNESCO’s partner in strengthening the initiative: the global multilingual database of freedom of expression jurisprudence – more than 2,700 case analyses in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese – has been guiding the audience of judicial actors. Around 35,000 participants across more than 160 countries received training within the Judges’ Initiative in the last decade. UNESCO’s recently released report highlights more of the program’s milestones, including free Massive Open Online Courses and published resources and guidelines. The report is also available in French and Spanish

● DON’T MISS OUT – Revealing the Power of Freedom of Expression Jurisprudence: CGFoE Database and its usefulness for the Latin American legal academia. October 20, 2023. We are inviting Latin American universities, lawyers, professors, students, human rights activists, legal professionals, and anyone interested in understanding and promoting freedom of expression in Latin America to join the upcoming webinar that will discuss the CGFoE Database. Numerous cases in the database have been translated into Spanish and represent an important resource for use in the academic field of constitutional law and human rights in Latin America: for legal research, in constitutional and human rights courses, for writing papers, or as a consulting tool in international human rights moot competitions, among others. The panelists will share their experience using the database and how it contributes to the judicial and academic field of freedom of expression. The webinar will be in Spanish and open to the public. October 20, 2023. 9-10:30 am COT (Bogotá) / 10-11:30 am ET (New York) / 11-12:30 pm ART (Buenos Aires). Register here.

● Upcoming Event – SLAPPs and Lawyers: What Every EU Lawyer Needs to Know. The European Lawyers Foundation (ELF) and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) are organizing a webinar in which ELF, CCBE, European Commission, and Council of Europe representatives will discuss SLAPPs and the role of lawyers. The panels will include “EU Anti-SLAPP Directive: An Introduction,” “Overview of SLAPP Cases in the EU,” “The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe’s Position on SLAPPs,” and “European Commission’s Recommendation on SLAPPs and Its Impact on Lawyers’ Ethics.” October 25, 2023. 9-11:00 am CET. Register here by October 24.

Upcoming Event – Counter Speech Trainings, November 2023.The Future of Free Speech Project (FFS) is inviting civil society and digital activists, policymakers, scholars, and everyone interested to join their training sessions based on the forthcoming counter-speech toolkit that the FFS created together with the Dangerous Speech Project. The trainings will consist of the following sessions: 1) What is Counterspeech and why is it important? 2) Counterspeech strategies and practical considerations; 3) Counterspeech: Defining Success; 4) Counterspeech: As a Reaction to What? 5) Practical Examples from TikTok; 6) Decoding right wing extremist symbols. The sessions will take place across two days. They require participation in both. The FFS holds the trainings in three different time zones: South Asia – November 1-2, 2023, Central Time – November 6-7, 2023, and Central European Time – November 13-14, 2023. Learn about the program and its schedule hereRegister as soon as possible to reserve your spot.

Decisions this Week

The Case of the Judge Who Sent Controversial Twitter Posts
Decision Date: May 16, 2019
The Polish Supreme Court – Disciplinary Chamber found that a judge did not anticipate that an explicit statement on Twitter would reverberate in the public discourse when he should have done so. The judge had compared a well-known politician to Adolf Hitler, using a judges’ association’s Twitter account. The Court emphasized that the tweet had a wider impact than just the profile’s followers because of the ability of social network to copy, forward or share a particular message. The Court also held that in the case of a judge, freedom of expression is subject to additional, specific restrictions, which also apply to activities outside a courtroom. The Court found that the tweet caused general damage to the image of judges and compromised their impartiality, and the judge had therefore undermined the dignity of his office and committed a disciplinary offense, and the Court imposed a disciplinary penalty of caution.

The Case of the Judge Who Sent Abusive Emails
Decision Date: September 30, 2016
The Polish Supreme Court – Disciplinary Court held that the high standards of judicial expression also apply to private electronic communications. A judge had sent abusive emails to his ex-wife and son, containing rude and derogatory remarks and the ex-wife – herself a judge –  initiated proceedings before the disciplinary jurisdiction. The Court analysed the national and regional standards on privacy and the right to communicate, concluding that they must, however, be balanced with the need to ensure high standards of judicial conduct. The Court found that the judge had undermined the judicial office and so had committed a minor disciplinary offence but also found mitigating factors which justified the conclusion that the penalty be waived.

European Court of Human Rights
Tuskia v. Georgia
Decision Date: October 11, 2018
The Fifth Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that Georgia did not violate the petitioners’ right to freedom of assembly under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, read in conjunction with the right to freedom of expression under Article 10, by dispersing the protest held at Tbilisi State University on 3 July 2006 and imposing subsequent fines on demonstrators. The petitioners were a group of professors at the university who were opposed to several university reforms implemented by the rector, Mr G.Kh, and organized several protests in 2006. On 3 July 2006, the petitioners staged a massive protest at the university and entered the office of the rector in an attempt to remove him from office. The police negotiated for two hours with the petitioners to disperse the protest in the rector’s office, who agreed to leave without disturbance. Following administrative proceedings, the petitioners were fined approximately 45 Euros for the administrative offenses of resisting arrest and disturbing the public order. The petitioners claimed that the dispersal of their protest and the fines imposed by the state of Georgia violated their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The state, for its part, argued that these rights were not unlimited and that the petitioners had committed administrative offenses by disrupting the normal functioning of the university and by refusing to vacate the rector’s office for two hours. The ECtHR found that Georgia had interfered with the petitioners’ right to assembly by dispersing the protest and fining them. However, it also found that such a restriction was lawful and pursued the legitimate aim of maintaining public order and the normal functioning of the university. The ECtHR held that the measures were necessary in a democratic society in order to preserve the functioning of the university and noted that the state had not used force and had been tolerant of various protests carried out by the petitioners, even allowing them to protest inside the university after they had left the rector’s office.

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.

Access Now Digital Identity Toolkit
The toolkit is designed to assist digital rights activists in understanding the complexities of digital identification systems. It provides a framework for understanding these systems and breaking them down into distinct parts, especially for non-experts. The toolkit functions as a “choose your own adventure” game, where players select a Persona and navigate through the System, Harm, and Mitigation stages based on their circumstances. It can also be used to holistically analyze a specific digital ID system by selecting the System cards that apply to the system.

Post Scriptum

● Section 20 of Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act: Urgent Reforms Needed. TrialWatch, an initiative of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, has released a report that shows Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has been used to the detriment of free speech. Last year’s decision of the Islamabad High Court ruled that parts of PECA were “inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.” In the following months, the Supreme Court of Pakistan “requested briefing on the compatibility of PECA with the right to freedom of expression.” Nevertheless, the abuse of the law to harm journalists persisted. TrialWatch calls for Section 20’s reform or for the government to recognize it as unconstitutional. Read the full report here.

● Serbia: New draft media laws represent another step backward for media freedom. Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), together with other Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partner organizations, urges the Serbian government to comply with the international freedom of expression standards in the proposed Law on Public Information and Media and Law on Electronic Media. The undersigned organizations argue the recent versions of the two laws “propose a framework that would block the reform of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) and pave the way for a return to full state ownership of private media, including Telekom Srbija.” OBCT, ARTICLE 19 Europe, and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom among others state the “problematic changes” must be reversed by the government.

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