May 23, 2017
Dear Friends,

This week we are featuring decisions from China, Russia and the United States. The case from Russia concerns videos critical of law enforcement which were banned as “extremist.” In China, a group was found guilty of supporting 'heretical religion’ for organizing what they called a Bible Class and using materials from a religious group listed as an evil cult by the Ministry of Public Security.  A US court convicted members of a white-supremacist group for making terrorist threats which were racially motivated. 

Also from the US, we analyzed Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group of Boston, which is being referenced by US President Trump's lawyers in Nwanguma et al v. Trump et al. to argue he had a First Amendment right to expel protesters from his campaign rally.

Enjoy reading the case analyses and we welcome your feedback!
Two New Updates by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression
Russia’s double standard on dealing with “fake” news by Bach Avezdjanov, Global Freedom of Expression Program Officer
Disrupting the disruption: a key role for academics in the protection  of freedom of expression, keynote speech by Dr. Agnes Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at the World Press Freedom Day Academic Conference on the Safety of Journalists, Jakarta, 3 May 2017
Guardian investigation revealed Facebook’s secret rules and guidelines for deciding what its 2 billion users can post on the site, fueling global debate about the role and ethics of the social media giant.
Egypt: The Court of Cassation has approved the challenge filed by novelist and PEN/ Barbey Freedom to Write Awardee Ahmed Naji, canceling his two-year prison sentence and ordering his retrial.
‘The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It

Twitter Founder, Evan Williams admitted that the Internet is broken - “I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Evan Williams says. “I was wrong about that.”


The Case of Ayupov R.N. 

Decision Date: February 16, 2016
The Khanty Surgut City Court ordered that a video containing statements that were critical of law enforcement be added to a unified register of banned extremist material because it allegedly contained extremist content. In the video, the leader of a Russian nationalist organization criticized Surgut City's law enforcement authorities. The Khanty Surgut City Court added the video to the list on the basis of expert findings, which concluded that the video contained statements that could incite hatred toward government officials and exacerbate social tensions.

North America

United States

Georgia v. Torres and Norton
Decision Date: February 27, 2017
Georgia Superior Court Judge William McClain convicted members of the white-supremacist group "Respect the Flag", of making terrorist threats and violating Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. They were sentenced to a combined 19 years in prison and would not be allowed to enter Douglas County, where the crime occurred, following their release. Jose Torres and Kayla Norton were taking part in a two-day rampage carried out by "Respect the Flag" when they showed up at an outdoor birthday party for an African-American child where they hurled racial slurs, made armed threats, and waved Confederate battle flags.  Judge McClain said that the Defendants' acts were racially-motivated and reasoned that he had to consider the motivation of the incident even though First Amendment protections for free speech weren't engaged because Georgia is one of a handful of states that doesn't have a hate crime law. The Judge was also mindful that the incident occurred just a month after another racially-motivated assault when Dylann Roof shot down nine African-American worshipers in a Charleston, S.C. church.

Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group of Boston
Decision Date: June 19, 1995
The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the First Amendment protections of private speakers finding that private parade organizers could not be forced by state law to include participant organizations representing minorities or specialized messages. The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, refused to allow GLIB, a gay rights organization, to march in the annual St. Patrick's Day and Evacuation Day Parade. GILB sued the Council for violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Massachusetts' state constitution and a state public accommodations law. The Court found that Massachusetts public accommodations law which prohibited discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation in any public places was constitutional but held that its application in the present case was not. The Court accepted the Council's argument that individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were not prevented from marching in the parade overall and noted that no individual member of GILB claimed to be excluded from marching with another group. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the application of the public accommodations law in the present case was incorrect and violated the Council's First Amendment right to control every participating unit of a parade so as to give effect to the overall message the private parade organizers wished to convey. The Court said that "[a] speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message."



Shuangjiang Autonomous County People's Prosecutor v. Yu et al.
Decision Date: July 22, 2015
Lincang Intermediate People's Court upheld a ruling that the defendants were guilty of “sabotaging the implementation of the state's laws and executive regulations" by using "heretical religion" when they organized a "cult" training at the house of Yu Guofen. The defendants Yu, Song and Wong organized what they called a Bible class and used training materials from Three Grades of Servants, a religious group that had been listed as an ‘evil cult’ by the Ministry of Public Security. The Court found that the use of propaganda created by a banned religious organization constituted a crime according to the Interpretation of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Prosecutorial. Further, the Court rejected the appellants' plea for leniency on the basis that their actions didn't cause serious social harm, finding instead that it was the timely investigation by the Public Security Bureau that had prevented harmful consequences. The defendants were sentenced to three years in prison.

Other Noteworthy

ECPMF Upcoming Conference: International experts present case studies on how to combat and deal with “fake news“ 
Ukrainian President Poroshenko has blocked access to some of Russia’s largest internet companies and social media sites, including Yandex,, VKontakte and Odnoclassniki. According to Presidential Decree 133 which came into force on 15 May 2017, Ukrainian internet service providers will be required to block access to these sites for a period of three years. See ARTICLE 19’s reactions

The Olso Freedom Forum is in progress now May 22–24, 2017 in Oslo, Norway. This year’s theme is “Defending Democracy.”

The Phoenicia University campus in El Daoudiyeh. Wednesday, May 24 at 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM UTC+03. The exhibit includes a panel discussion with free speech experts and activists including Lawyer Hussein El Achi, Photojournalist at Al-Araby El-Jadeed Hussein Baydoun, Author, poet and human rights activist Joumana Haddad, Journalist and activist Luna Safwan, and Graffiti Artist Omar Kabbani (Ashekman).
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Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to advance understanding of the international and national norms and institutions that best protect the free flow of information and expression in an inter-connected global community with major common challenges to address. 

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