Medžlis Islamske Zajednice Brčko v Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Simple Speech Case Made Unbelievably Complex?

By Stijn Smet, Melbourne Law School. Stijn is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ARC Laureate Program in Comparative Constitutional Law and co-editor with Eva Brems of the new volume When Human Rights Clash at the European Court of Human Rights: Conflict or Harmony? (OUP, 2017)

Imagine, if you will, two scenarios. The first involves four NGOs writing a private letter to the highest authorities of a Bosnian city. “According to our information”, the NGOs state in the letter, the newly appointed Serbian director of a public radio station has displayed a problematic attitude towards Muslims and Bosniacs. Her past actions, the NGOs claim, “absolutely disqualify” her from being director of a multi-ethnic radio station. The NGOs further press upon the authorities the “hope that you will react appropriately”. It turns out, however, that the factual allegations made in the NGOs’ letter are all incorrect or (grossly) exaggerated.

Now picture the second scenario: the very same letter is published in three daily newspapers.

Both scenarios seem rather different. It would make sense, then, to apply distinct free speech standards to both. They might even call for opposite solutions. Not so, says the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR in Medžlis Islamske Zajednice Brčko and Others v Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a complex judgment marked by contorted reasoning, the Court equates NGOs to the press. The Court also suggests that it ultimately does not matter all that much whether wrong factual allegations are made in private letters or disseminated publicly. Continue reading

Bayev and Others v. Russia: on Judge Dedov’s outrageously homophobic dissent

Earlier this week, we published a blog post by Pieter Cannoot and Claire Poppelwell-Scevak on the judgment of Bayev and Others v. Russia in which the Court held that Russia’s so-called gay propaganda law violated the European Convention. In this blog post, I will not further dwell upon the outcome of the case or the reasoning by the majority. However, it is necessary to highlight and protest against the dissenting opinion by Judge Dedov. In his dissent, the Russian judge has crossed a line by making outrageously homophobic statements that are unworthy of a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. Continue reading

ECtHR finds Russia’s gay propaganda law discriminatory in strong-worded judgment

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University) and Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, FWO Research Fellow, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University)

On 20 June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights issued a particularly strong-worded judgment in the case of Bayev and Others v. Russia. The Court not only found Russia’s legislative prohibition of the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ among minors to be a violation of Article 10 and Articles 10 j. 14 ECHR, but also did so in a well-reasoned, straightforward judgment that easily set aside every argument by the Russian Government. The boldness of the judgment for the protection of LGB rights heavily contrasts with the dissenting opinion of Judge Dedov, whose inexcusable assimilation of homosexual persons with child abusers is a black mark on the Strasbourg Court. Continue reading

No journalism exception for massive exposure of personal taxation data

By Dirk Voorhoof, Ghent University, Human Rights Centre.

 After long proceedings at national level, after a preliminary ruling by the EU Court of Justice on 16 December 2008 (Case C-73/07), and after the European Court of Human Rights Chamber judgment of 21 July 2015, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR on 27 June 2017 finally found no violation of the right to freedom of expression and information in Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v. Finland. In essence the case concerns the mass collection, processing and publication of personal taxation data which were publicly accessible in Finland. The combination of a narrow interpretation of (public interest) journalism with a wide margin of appreciation for the domestic authorities led to the finding of a non-violation of Article 10 ECHR. Continue reading

Independent Newspapers v. Ireland: €1.25 million defamation award against newspaper violated Article 10

The European Court’s Fifth Section has unanimously held that a damages award made against an Irish newspaper for defamation violated the right to freedom of expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention. While the judgment in Independent Newspapers v. Ireland concerned Irish defamation law prior to reforms brought about in 2009, it is still significant for signalling to Irish courts that unpredictably high damages have a “chilling effect,” and require the “most careful scrutiny” and “very strong justification.” Continue reading

Orloskaya iskra v. Russia: Reporting in media during election campaign must be free from content restrictions

By Galina Arapova, Director of Mass Media Defence Centre, senior media lawyer, Russia

On 21 February, the Court delivered its judgment in the case of Orloskaya iskra v. Russia, concerning the use of electoral laws to curb or restrict media reporting at election time and the circulation of critical opinions and information about candidates, their programs and political views.

The case deals with the applicant’s conviction for an administrative offence for publishing critical articles about a politician during the 2007 parliamentary election campaign in Russia.  The applicant, regional newspaper “Orlovskaya iskra”, whose political affiliation was specified on the front page, had published two critical articles. Continue reading

Pihl v. Sweden: non-profit blog operator is not liable for defamatory users’ comments in case of prompt removal upon notice

by Dirk Voorhoof

In its decision of 9 March 2017 in Rolf Anders Daniel Pihl v. Sweden, the ECtHR has clarified the limited liability of operators of websites or online platforms containing defamatory user-generated content. The Court’s decision is also to be situated in the current discussion on how to  prevent or react on  “fake news”, and the policy to involve online platforms in terms of liability for posting such messages. Although the Court’s ruling expresses concerns about imposing liability on internet intermediaries that would amount to requiring excessive and impractical forethought capable of undermining the right to impart information via internet, the decision in Pihl v. Sweden itself guarantees only minimal protection for the rights of internet intermediaries and users’ rights.

Continue reading