August 9, 2017
Dear Friends,

This week we are featuring two important recent decisions. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave a wide margin of appreciation to the Finish domestic authorities in balancing the right to freedom of expression against the right to respect for a private life when it found no violation of Art. 10 for prohibiting the publication of personal tax data en masse by journalism outlets. Next, in concert with Russia’s ongoing crackdown on NGOs, The Supreme Court of Russia granted the Ministry of Justice’s request to dissolve a religious center along with its 395 regional affiliates for violating the law “On Combatting Extremist Activities”.

In our ongoing series on right to information law, contributed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, we have three rulings pertaining to confidentiality.  

Enjoy reading the case analyses and we welcome your feedback!

Russia: Content Analysis Serves as a Tool of Biased Courts

In this commentary originally published by EurasiaNet, Bach Avezdjanov, Legal Officer at Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, explores how content analysis is being used by Russian courts to misinterpret the meaning of speakers’ words in an effort to silence dissent and/or peaceful criticism of authorities.
5th October 2017: ECPMF conference “Defending journalists under threat - solidarity, support and safehouses.” Leipzig School of Media, Germany
Investigative Journalism Fellowships for Pakistani Journalists
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), in collaboration with Netherlands-based Free Press Unlimited, seeks applications for fellowships on investigative journalism.
Closing Date August 20, 2017
joint submission to United Nations Human Rights Committee 120th session (3 – 28 July 2017) by IFEX, the Pakistan Press Foundation and The International Network of Human Rights finds that the situation for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in Pakistan has not improved since the ratification of the ICCPR and that the constitutional, legal and institutional framework has deteriorated. The report concludes with recommendations for the government of Pakistan.
Law Library Creates Database of UN Human Rights Documents
Searchable Archive of 2,800 Documents Now Available to Researchers

For the first time, a new online database curated by the University of Virginia School of Law Library compiles the preparatory documents for nine international human rights conventions created by the United Nations. The treaties featured in the Travaux Préparatoires project form the core of the U.N.’s stances regarding human rights. They affirm the rights of children, migrant workers and people with disabilities, among others.



The Case of Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v. Finland
Decision Date: June 27, 2017
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found no violation of the right to freedom of expression where Finnish courts and authorities had prohibited two companies from processing personal tax data in the manner and to the extent that they had. The companies had collected and published information about the earned and unearned income and taxable net assets of 1.2. million natural persons in Finland, first through a newspaper and later through a text-messaging service by which people could text someone’s name to a service number and receive that person’s taxation information. In these circumstances, the Grand Chamber gave a wide margin of appreciation to the domestic authorities in balancing the right to freedom of expression against the right to respect for a private life. The Grand Chamber could not find that the publication of the tax data en masse in this case contributed to a debate of public interest. It also noted that although (and rather exceptionally) certain tax data was publicly accessible in Finland, a distinction was to be drawn between this accessibility and the unlimited extent to which the data was published by the companies as it rendered the data accessible in a manner and to an extent not intended by the legislator. The Court concluded that the restrictions were prescribed by law and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the right to privacy of taxpayers.


The Ministry of Justice v. Jehovah’s Witnesses Management Center in Russia
Decision Date: April 20, 2017
The Supreme Court of Russia granted the Ministry of Justice’s request to dissolve the “Jehovah’s Witnesses Management Center in Russia” (Center) and its 395 regional affiliates for violating the law “On Combatting Extremist Activities”. It was alleged that the Center imported banned extremist religious literature into Russia, financially supported banned extremist organizations, and failed to eradicate or prevent extremist activities within it and its regional affiliates. The Supreme Court interpreted anti-extremism legislation broadly to allow preventative actions to be taken that resulted in restrictions on freedom of religion, expression and association.


Gergely v. Ministry of Development and Economics
Decision Date: September 9, 2008
A Regional Court of Appeal in Hungary held that the Ministry of Defense, as an organ performing state functions, was obliged to disclose a list of Swedish investments in Hungarian companies which were required in the framework of a lease agreement between the two countries. Gergely, a journalist, requested information on the investments which the Ministry of Defense rejected, denying the public nature of the information requested and relying on the commercial secrets exemption. The Court found that, pursuant to the RTI Act, the requested information qualified as “public information” and the Ministry as a “data controller” because the agreement was funded by public monies. The Court, further rejecting the Ministry’s arguments, determined the requested information concerned already approved and final decisions and therefore was not eligible for any related exemptions.

North America


SNC Lavalin Inc. v. Canada
Decision Date: December 12, 2007
The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal held that records of auditors' working papers regarding a project involving the Canadian International Development Agency and a private corporation do not constitute “confidential third-party information” and “personal information”. The Court reasoned that the information requested was not “confidential information” because it had not been provided with an expectation of confidence nor was there a reasonable expectation of probable harm to the private company if it was disclosed. Further, the Court said that the "personal information" protection available under the Access to Information Act did not apply to cases relating to third parties performing services under contract for the government.


South Africa

Transnet Ltd. v. SA Metal Machinery Co (Pty) Ltd
Decision Date: November 29, 2005
The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa held that parties relying on harm to third party interests to justify a refusal to disclose information must show that the harm is "not simply possible, but probable". The case was brought by SA Metal Machinery Company (Pty) Ltd., an unsuccessful bidder in a public tender, which sought documents related to the winning tender from the state owned Inter Waste (Pty) Ltd. under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). Transnet Limited provided access but justified deleting certain details relying on exemptions for duty of confidence and harm due to exposure of trade secrets. The Court found that a confidentiality clause cannot protect a contract between a state company and a third party from disclosure after the contract had been awarded. The Court also affirmed that a requester need not show legitimate reasons for requesting information.

Russia: On August 1, 2017, a Moscow court ordered to deport Ali Feruz, an Uzbek journalist and asylum-seeker. He fled Uzbekistan in 2008, after the authorities arrested and tortured him in an attempt to force him to report on political leanings of his acquaintances. In 2012, his passport was stolen and since 2015 he has been trying to receive status as a refugee and then as an asylum seeker. On August 1, he was detained near the offices of Russia’s independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where he worked as a journalist, and later in the day a court issued deportation orders. It is probable that if Mr. Feruz is returned to Uzbekistan, he will face torture and imprisonment due to his work. 
Kazakhstan: On August 3, 2017, it was reported that a court in Almaty convicted Olesya Khalabuzar, a prominent activist, of inciting ethnic hatred and imposed restrictions on her freedom of movement for two years. Ms.  Khalabuzar became known for her active participation in land reform protests that spread throughout Kazakhstan in 2016. The Kazakh authorities already prosecuted and imprisoned two other activists who took part in organizing the protests last year. Ms. Khalabuzar’s lighter sentence is likely because she renounced public activism in May 2017 via social media, possibly under government pressure. 
Kyrgyzstan: Bir-Duino, a human rights organization, is challenging in court attempts of the Kyrgyz authorities to confiscate the house of Azimjan Askarov, a human rights defender who has been unfairly prosecuted and imprisoned in 2010 for allegedly instigating ethnic hatred and being complicit in the murder of a police officer. National and international human rights organizations criticized the conviction as arbitrary and retaliatory for Askarov’s criticism of regional law enforcement. At the moment, the house is occupied by Askarov’s wife. In fact, a judicial order permitting the confiscation was already cancelled, but the prosecutor’s office of Bazar-Korgon, the region where the house is located, is persisting on having the property confiscated.
Tajikistan: The prosecutor general’s office imposed additional charges on Buzurgmekhr Yerov, a human rights lawyer who was arrested in 2015 on trumped-up charges in retaliation for defending the leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajskistan. He is now also being prosecuted for insult of Takiskistan’s President and fraud. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 30 years in prison, compared to five under the original charges. Since 2014, the Tajik authorities have arrested or imprisoned at least five human rights and other prominent lawyers – all were involved in defending opposition figures.

Other Noteworthy
Apple Caved to China, Just Like Almost Every Other Tech Giant
"Doing business in China requires playing by Chinese rules, and American tech companies have a long history of complying with Chinese censorship," Wired reports. 
A.C.L.U. Defends John Oliver from Stupid Lawsuit in Hilarious Amicus Brief
"Although this brief pokes fun at the absurdity of this case, the legal issues raised by it are anything but comical. This lawsuit, and Plaintiffs’ frequent attempts to use our legal system to chill speech, threaten the fundamental right of the media to criticize public figures and speak candidly on matters of public concern." 
ACLU sues Maryland, Kentucky governors over social media censorship
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky, claiming they violated constituents' First Amendment rights by blocking individuals from official social media accounts.
US Press Freedom Tracker: This nonpartisan website aims to be the first to provide reliable, easy-to-access information on the number of press freedom violations in the United States—from journalists facing charges to reporters stopped at the U.S. border or asked to hand over their electronics.
Tracking Russian-backed propaganda on Twitter

This new website seeks to track Russian-supported propaganda and disinformation on Twitter, part of a growing non-governmental effort to diminish Moscow's ability to meddle in future elections in the United States and Europe.

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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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