Below, please find the latest case additions to the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression legal database. As always, we very much welcome your comments and feedback on the case analyses.
We hope that you continue to find the email to be a useful introduction to new and seminal jurisprudence from around the world. If not, you can easily unsubscribe! (See below).
July 18-24, 2016
Pereira v Amorim
Decision Date: September 2, 2015
The Brazilian Supreme Court found that referring to someone as a “bandit” without providing any evidence of criminal behavior constituted libel. The case arose from a blog publication that included a picture of a journalist alongside two prominent politicians, including a presidential candidate, and that called the journalist a “bandit” who was “in cahoots” with politicians. The Supreme Court held that the right to freedom of expression cannot legitimize insult, defamation, libel or slander – to do so would legitimize morally offensive expressions that go beyond the freedom afforded to critics and journalists.
Annen v Germany
Decision Date: November 26, 2015
The European Court of Human Rights held that an order against an anti-abortion activist to cease distributing leaflets that implicitly compared abortion to the Holocaust and to cease listing the names of doctors who performed abortions on a website was in violation of the activist’s right to freedom of expression. The Court highlighted that in his pamphlets the applicant had correctly stated and explained how abortion was technically unlawful under the German law. Furthermore, the Court held that German courts erred when they applied the same legal principles to the website as to the pamphlet without taking into account the different nature of the Internet as a medium. In a dissenting opinion, Judges Yudkivska and Jäderblom argued that the injunction did not violate the right to freedom of expression as it was narrow in scope.
Abbas v India
Decision Date: September 24, 1970
The Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition brought by a journalist and film-maker challenging the Cinematograph Act of 1952 under which the Censor Board had required the petitioner to delete a scene from his film to be granted a license for unrestricted public showing of the film. The scene in question was set in the red-light district and suggestively portrayed prostitution and economic exploitation by pimps, which the Censor Board found was unsuitable for children’s eyes. The Court held that freedom of expression can be restricted on reasonable grounds, and that the Constitution of India permitted prior censorship to protect public order or peace.
Mail & Guardian Ltd. v Maharaj
Decision Date: May 12, 2016
The North Gauteng High Court reaffirmed the public’s right to know and the journalists’ right and duty to publish information in the public interest. The Court ruled in favor of the M and G Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Mail & Guardian (M&G) newspaper in their application against the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), who had refused M&G permission to publish information from a closed bribery inquiry involving the former South African transport minister and presidential spokesperson, Mac Maharaj.
Salihu v Sweden
Decision Date: May 10, 2016
The European Court of Human Rights held that an application by Swedish journalists who had been convicted of buying an illegal firearm was manifestly ill-founded and that their conviction did not violate the right to freedom of expression. The journalists had bought the weapon for an article illustrating how easy it was to buy weapons in Sweden, and had published photographs of the purchase and of the weapon. The Court held that journalists could not claim an exclusive immunity from criminal liability because the offence in question was committed during the performance of his or her journalistic functions. The Court concluded that while the article was undoubtedly in the public interest, the journalists need not have gone so far as to actually make the purchase. Additionally, the Court found the journalists’ sentences had been reduced to a fine and these were not so excessive as to have a chilling effect on freedom of the press.
Program Officer, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression