Studio Monitori and Others v. Georgia: access to public documents must be ‘instrumental’ for the right to freedom of expression

By Dirk Voorhoof and Ronan Ó Fathaigh

In the case of Studio Monitori and Others v. Georgia the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in its judgment of 30 January 2020 has confirmed that the right to freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) can only be invoked in order to obtain access to public documents when a set of conditions are fulfilled. It is one of the cases following the judgment of the Grand Chamber in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary to test the scope and limits of the right of access to information and the applicability of Article 10 ECHR. The most important consequence of the judgment in Studio Monitori and Others is that NGOs, journalists or other public watchdogs requesting access to public documents have to motivate and clarify in their request that access to the documents they are applying for is instrumental, and even necessary, for their journalistic reporting and that the requested documents contain information of public interest. Continue reading

Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (MKKP) v. Hungary: Technology meets freedom of expression and the rule of law in an electoral context

By Dr. Petra Gyöngyi (Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo, member of Judges under Stress – The Breaking Point of Judicial Institutions)

On January 20, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered a final decision in the case of Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (MKKP) v Hungary. The case concerned freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 ECHR in an election context – in particular the use of a mobile application made available by a political party (MKKP) where voters could share an anonymous photo of their invalid paper ballots alongside political messages as a sign of protest against a national referendum. The National Election Committee imposed a fine on MKKP, giving rise to the question of whether there has been a violation of the political party’s freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber held that the legal rules that constituted the basis for imposing a fine on MKKP were insufficiently foreseeable for the purposes of Article 10(2), did not rule out arbitrariness in its application and did not enable MKKP to regulate its conduct. As such, the Court held that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

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Journalist and editor’s conviction for incitement to religious hatred violated Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

In Tagiyev and Huseynov v. Azerbaijan, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the conviction and imprisonment of Azerbaijani journalist Rafig Nazir oglu Tagiye, and editor Samir Sadagat oglu Huseynov, for incitement to religious hatred, violated their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. Both had spent over a year in an Azerbaijan prison, and shockingly, following his release, Tagiyev was stabbed to death in an attack in Baku while his case was pending before the European Court. Tagiyev’s wife has continued the proceedings over her husband’s conviction and imprisonment, proceedings that took more than 11 years before the European Court. Mrs. Tagiyev also has a separate case pending over her husband’s killing, claiming that the Azerbaijani government failed to protect his right to life, and that he was targeted over his journalistic activities (here). Continue reading

Spain: Does the Supreme Court judgment against Catalan leaders comply with human rights law?

By Massimo Frigo (Senior Legal Adviser of the International Commission of Jurists)

On 14 October, the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) of Spain convicted 12 people in connection with their part in the organisation on 1 October 2017 of a referendum on Catalonian independence, that was conducted despite having been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.

Nine of the twelve leaders on trial – including high-ranking Catalan government officials – were convicted, in addition to other offences of abuse of power and disobedience, of the more severe offence of sedition.

The verdict was much expected and was issued in a context charged with political tension and expectations in a country that has been polarized by very contrasting opinions on the claims of self-determination in Catalunya, the carrying out of the referendum on 1 October 2017 despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling about the lack of legitimacy of this consultation under the Constitution, and the fact that the voting process during the referendum was forcibly suppressed in many locations by the police, with credible reports of the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force in breach of Spain’s international law obligations. Continue reading

Pryanishnikov v. Russia: the production and distribution of erotic and pornographic material under Article 10 of the ECHR

Argyro Chatzinikolaou is a doctoral researcher and a member of the Law & Technology research group and the Human Rights Centre at Ghent University. She is currently working on the research project “Minors and online sexual acts: a study of legal qualifications and regulatory approaches from a children’s rights perspective”.

In Pryanishnikov v Russia, a case concerning the authorities’ refusal to grant the applicant a film reproduction license, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR or Court) found a violation of the right to freedom of expression, as the only reason advanced by the domestic courts for the refusal of the relevant license had been based on mere suspicions rather than findings of fact. Moreover, the Court concluded that the authorities had failed to strike a fair balance between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect public morals and the rights of others. Beyond the judgment itself and the finding of a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (hereinafter ECHR), what merits attention is the elaborate concurring opinion delivered by Judge Pinto de Albuquerque on the regulation of pornography and the justification of restrictions of such material at a European and national level. Continue reading

Denying journalist access to asylum-seeker ‘reception centre’ in Hungary violated Article 10 ECHR

By Dirk Voorhoof and Ronan Ó Fathaigh

In Szurovecz v. Hungary, the European Court of Human Rights has held that a refusal to grant a journalist access to an asylum-seeker ‘reception centre’ in Hungary violated his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. The ECtHR emphasised that newsgathering, including ‘first-hand’ observation by a journalist reporting on a matter of significant public interest, is an essential part of journalistic research and press freedom. The ECtHR found that the public interest in reporting from certain locations is especially relevant where the authorities’ handling of vulnerable groups is at stake, and the presence of media is a guarantee that the authorities can be held to account for their conduct. Continue reading

ECtHR engages in dangerous “triple pirouette” to find criminal prosecution for media coverage of PKK statements did not violate Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

The European Court’s Second Section recently found that criminal proceedings against the owner and the editor of a newspaper for having published statements by the leader of a terrorist organisation were justified and did not violate the right to freedom of expression. The Court in Gürbüz and Bayar v. Turkey found that the newspaper’s article with statements by the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, contained and implied a threat of resumption of violence. In its approach and finding no violation of freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR, the Court itself made an assessment of the context and content of the article at issue, as the Turkish courts had restricted themselves to the finding of the illegal character of reproducing the statements of the PKK-leader as such, without further evaluating the necessity of the interference in a democratic society. Continue reading