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 & Recent News

The European Legal Ground and Jurisprudence on Freedom of Expression and Online Speech. November 6, 2023. In cooperation with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, the São Paulo School of Judges is hosting an online seminar that will examine how the European Court of Human Rights has contributed to the protection of the right to freedom of expression and information on the Internet. The discussion will be based on a set of five clusters of cases/issues, including the recent decisions in Sanchez v France and Hurbain v Belgium. The speakers, University of Gent and University of Copenhagen Professor Dirk Voorhoof and Legal Researcher and University of Innsbruck Doctoral Candidate Martin Müller will present the main legal questions raised in the selected cases and cover the impact of the new European Digital Services Act on the subject of content moderation and intermediary civil liability. The webinar is part of the Online Course on the Internet and Freedom of Expression. November 6, 2023. 9-11:00 am ET / 10-12:00 pm BRT. The event will be in English and Portuguese with simultaneous interpretation. Register to attend (find registration instructions here).

Upcoming Event – Third UK Anti-SLAPP Conference: Tracking Implementation.The Foreign Policy Centre, the Justice for Journalists Foundation, and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute are inviting you to attend the third edition of their Anti-SLAPP Conference. With this year’s focus being on Implementation Tracking, the conference responds to legislative progress in the UK and beyond and the roadblocks that accompany it. The two-day event will bring together experts from around the world. The conference’s supporting organizations and partners are Thomson Reuters Foundation, Index on Censorship, English PEN, ARTICLE 19, Media Defence, and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. November 27-28, 2023. London, UK. Starting at 9:30 am UK time. Email to register your participation in person. To attend online, reserve your spot here.

Upcoming Event – Humor and Conflict in the Digital Age Conference.Andrew Bricker, Professor at Ghent University, and Alberto Godioli, Professor at the University of Groningen, are organizing a two-day conference on Humor and Conflict in the Digital Age. The announced keynote speakers are Chi-Hé Elder, University of East Anglia, Eleni Kapogianni, University of Kent, Giselinde Kuipers, KU Leuven, and Raúl Pérez, La Verne University. The program includes “a public-facing roundtable with humor practitioners” and presentations on “Amused Racial Contempt: On the Emotional Power of Humor in Social and Racial Alignment and Alienation, Past and Present,” “Humor Affective Polarization: How Finnish and Dutch humor scandals mark – and possibly widen – societal divides,” and “The Role of Humor in Combatting Conspiracy Theories: A Case Study of an Estonian Conspiracy-Debunking Group on Facebook,” among many others. November 29-30, 2023. Ghent University, Belgium. Register here to attend the entire conference or an individual event.

The Role of Law Enforcement Agents: Ensuring Safety of Journalists During Public Demonstrations and Elections. Marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, commemorated on November 2, UNESCO released new data that shows an increase in violence committed against journalists during elections. Between January 2019 to June 2022, UNESCO recorded such attacks at or around the time of 89 elections in 70 countries: “759 journalists and media professionals were attacked, 42% of whom were attacked by law enforcement agents.” UNESCO’s issue brief includes a list of recommendations tailored for law enforcement  agents and agencies, emphasizing their responsibility to “[uphold] and [enable] freedom of expression while maintaining public order safely.” Read the full publication here.

Decisions this Week

United States
Pennsylvania State Police v. American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
Decision Date: August 22, 2023
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that the Commonwealth Court committed an abuse of discretion when it ordered a remand to the Office of Open Records. In the case, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania via the Right to Know Law  (RTKL) sought an unredacted copy of a Social Media Monitoring Policy (AR 6-9) from the Pennsylvania State Police. Pennsylvania State Police heavily redacted the policy, citing public safety concerns. The Office of Open Records ordered the release of an unredacted copy, but the Commonwealth Court reversed this decision, emphasizing that the agency’s redactions were justified based on the affidavit alone. The Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth Court’s remand was an abuse of discretion, as it had no basis in the RTKL or the record, and it risked undermining the law’s objective of expeditious determination of requests. The Court criticized the shift in the burden of proof and sua sponte intervention by the Commonwealth Court and emphasized the importance of adherence to the RTKL’s principles. Consequently, the Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order, directing the Pennsylvania State Police to provide the ACLU with an unredacted copy of AR 6-9, concluding a protracted legal battle for transparency and adherence to the RTKL.

A Lakshminarayanan v. Assistant General Manager HRM
Decision Date: August 8, 2023
The Madras High Court quashed the misconduct charges framed against an employee for posting a message in a private WhatsApp Group, as it was protected under the right to freedom of speech and expression. The case concerns an employee and active trade union member who formed a WhatsApp Group to discuss union activities and subsequently shared some messages against the Management. The Management suspended the employee and issued a Charge memo. The High Court analyzing the bank’s circular and regulations, emphasized the employee’s right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Court interpreted the circular in a manner consistent with legal boundaries, safeguarding the petitioner’s right to criticize management within the limits of the law. Stressing the importance of privacy, the Court protected private discussions within encrypted platforms, cautioning against thought-policing. Referring to precedent cases, the Court upheld the petitioner’s right to vent grievances and quashed the charge memo, asserting that the petitioner’s actions did not constitute misconduct, reinforcing the significance of privacy and freedom of expression in the digital age.

Republic of Georgia
Kuprava v. Parliament of Georgia
Decision Date: July 23, 2023
The First Collegium of the Constitutional Court of Georgia held that the criminalization of offensive expressions targeting judges was constitutional. An activist, facing separate charges, was convicted of contempt of court for having used obscene language about a judge outside the courtroom of his initial trial. The Court stressed the significance of preserving the judiciary’s authority and reputation, maintaining judicial independence and impartiality, and upholding public trust in the justice system. While acknowledging the importance of freedom of speech, it underlined that this freedom is not absolute and may be subject to limitations, particularly when they align with the principle of proportionality. The Court recognized the unique status of the judges and emphasized the restriction’s necessity to prevent harm to judges and the justice system. A dissenting opinion expressed concerns about the precedence of public interests over freedom of expression and the potential chilling effect of the restriction.

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.

Freedom in the World 2023
The 2023 edition of Freedom in the World provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and achievements of democracy over the past five decades. In 2022, the global struggle for democracy reached a possible turning point, with the gap between countries registering improvements in political rights and civil liberties narrowing. A total of 34 countries showed improvements in political rights and civil liberties, compared with 35 that lost ground, signaling a possible slowdown in the global decline. Democratic gains were achieved through more transparent and competitive elections in Lesotho, Colombia, and Kenya, as well as lifting pandemic-related restrictions that disproportionately affected freedom of assembly and movement. One significant challenge has been the widespread assault on civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression. Over the last 17 years, the number of countries and territories receiving a score of 0 out of 4 on the report’s media freedom indicator has ballooned from 14 to 33..

Post Scriptum

● Setting Democratic Ground Rules for AI: Civil Society Strategies, by Beth Kerley. The report, produced by the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, builds upon the world-shaping role of artificial intelligence and asks, “How can we ensure that democratic norms and institutions shape the trajectory of AI?” In compiling the report, Kerley, the Forum’s program officer, drew from conversations at a private workshop that the Forum held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, having brought together researchers and civil society representatives. The report starts with addressing conceptual and strategic challenges that AI poses to counter democratic engagement. It then surveys ideas that aim to set democratic governance of AI, noting, “The complexity of AI governance makes cross-sectoral collaboration crucial.” Read the full report here

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