July 12, 2017
Dear Friends,

This week we are featuring a German Court ruling which found Google liable for posting a take-down notice which forwarded readers to the Lumen website which provided a hyperlink to infringing material. In an unfortunate June ruling, Thailand's Bangkok Military Court sentenced Wichai to 70 years in prison, believed to be the longest lèse-majesté sentence ever handed down.

A high Court in Botswana found a Presidential Directive banning all government sponsored advertising in specific newspapers to be a prima facie infringement on their right to free expression. 

Enjoy reading the case analyses and we welcome your feedback!

This Week Columbia Global Freedom of Expression spoke at the 2017 Annenberg-Oxford Media Summer Institute held at the University of Oxford: some 40 students from 29 countries participated in this week-long program bringing experts from around the world, including long standing Columbia GFOE experts Nani Jansen Reventlow and Jonathan McCully. We presented case studies on international trends in decriminalization of defamation and on the right to information as well as held a workshop on the case law database.  

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression also participated in the Ministerial event held by UNESCO and Transparency International on “The role of civil society and justice systems in the implementation of the targets in SDG 16” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Numerous judges from Latin America attended the conference, allowing us to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and access to information in the implementation of the 2030 sustainable development agenda.

U.S. Net Neutrality Day of Action!

In May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to begin the process of rolling back Obama-era rules that prevent large internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast or Verizon from using their dominance in the market to gouge small innovators or discriminate against content providers. The second period for public comments is now open through July 17. Here is a petition to protect Net Neutrality. The US move will stand in contradiction with global trends which have tended to protect net neutrality.
In case you missed the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom conference “Promoting dialogue between the European Court of Human Rights and the media freedom community. Freedom of expression and the role and case law of the European Court of Human Rights: developments and challenges,” the Conference e-book including the introduction, presentations and conclusions is available here for download
US Protest Law Tracker: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression partner ICNL is monitoring and documenting legislation in US States Affecting the Right to Peaceful Assembly proposed or passed since November 2016. Check their latest update here: 8 States have adopted bills restricting freedom of assembly; 12 draft bills are pending and 15 have been defeated as of July 4th.

Fake News and Manipulation:  two reports are out this week, one focusing on how various alt-right groups manipulate the Internet ecosystem to spread their ideas and another from the Shorenstein Center on how to combat fake news. Columbia University Law School Professor John Coffee in an interview by "Bloomberg Law"  speaks about how the SEC is investigating fake news producers for manipulating stock prices.  



Company v. Google Inc.
Decision Date: June 7, 2017
The Oberlandesgericht München (Higher Regional Court of Munich) issued an injunction against Google Inc. prohibiting it from including the Lumen website from its search results because the Lumen website hyperlinked to an infringing statement. The Claimant, a German company, had obtained an injunction in an earlier court case ordering Google to stop showing websites which falsely accused the Claimant of being investigated for fraud. Google removed the websites from its search results and instead provided a link to the Lumen website which contained a link to the original offending statement. Court ruled in favor of the Company and found Google liable for deleting infringing search results, only to make them available via a copy of the take-down request.



Media Publishing (Pty) Ltd v. Attorney General
Decision Date: September 17, 2001
The High Court in Gaborone, Botswana issued an interim injunction to halt the implementation of a presidential directive which banned all government sponsored advertising in specific newspapers, pending judicial review. Media Publishing (Pty) Ltd brought the action claiming that the directive, which ordered all government entities, parastatals and private companies with a government majority-shareholding to cease advertising in certain newspapers, was a violation of their freedom of speech.  The Court found that the directive constituted a prima facie infringement of the newspapers freedom of expression because “the Government was basically instilling on the applicant pressure that for it to continue to enjoy the benefit of receiving advertising from the Government it should conform to a reportage that … that meets government approval.” The Court rejected the Attorney-General’s argument that the decision to advertise in certain newspapers was purely commercial, reasoning that the Government is not an average a consumer because it has a responsibility to ensure that the rights and freedoms granted upon the individual by the constitution are not infringed. 



The Case of Wichai
Decision Date: June 9, 2017
Thailand's Bangkok Military Court sentenced the defendant, Wichai, to 35 years in prison for posting images and messages deemed insulting to the royal family. Wichai, whose last name was withheld for the safety of his family, was charged with 10 counts of lèse-majesté in respect of the comments and images which it was alleged he had posted using a Facebook account that he had created under the name of a former friend. The Court handed down a sentence of 70  years, a seven-year penalty for each count, but halved the sentence to 35 years following a guilty plea. The sentence is believed to be the longest lèse-majesté sentence ever handed down.

Kazakhstan: On July 7, a court in Almaty ordered a regional Jehovah’s Witnesses Center to stop all of its activities for three months. The order was based on a claim that the building used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to meet safety requirements for structures used for mass gatherings. Interestingly, just six months prior a government review of the building found no problems. The religious group reportedly has been harassed by law enforcement over the last few months. In May, some 40 law enforcement representatives, including some wearing balaclavas and carrying automatic guns, raided the Center. Additionally, in June, 20 buses carrying 900 foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses were prevented from attending a regional Jehovah’s Witnesses Congress.
Kyrgyzstan: The Oktyabrskiy Court in Bishkek satisfied two additional complaints against an independent news platform Zanoza.Kg (see last week’s newsletter for information on the first two complaints). The complaints alleged that the news platform insulted the President of Kyrgyzstan in two articles. In one article, a member of parliament discussed that cargo, which fell out of a plane mid-flight on January 16, 2017, belonged to the Kyrgyz President’s family. A second article did not even name the President, but it was alleged that the use of words such as “authority” and “leader” attempted to tie the substance of the article to the President of Kyrgyzstan. As of now, the Oktyabrskiy Court levied a total of $347,000 in fines against the publication and its founders – an immense sum for a country with an average monthly salary of around $400.
Russia: On July 7, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court lowered the sentence of Ruslan Sokolovsky, a popular blogger who was convicted of offending the feelings of religious believers and inciting hatred when he made and published nine videos on YouTube. Additionally Sokolovsky was convicted of illegally purchasing surveillance technology because he owned a camera pen. He was given a 3.5 year suspended sentence and banned from civic activities for that period. The Sverdlovk Court kept the offense and incitement convictions, but dropped the conviction related to the illegal purchase of a camera pen. His sentenced was reduced to two years and the ban on civic activities remained.

Other Noteworthy

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.
Russian journalist Zoya Svetova brought a case against the Federal Prison Service for refusing to allow her to interview Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who is serving a twenty-year sentence in Yakutiya. She lost the case but learned a great deal about the Prison Service’s decision-making and will now bring a case to the Russian Constitutional Court challenging article 24 of the Criminal Execution Code. 
A great move for freedom of information:  Judge Says Twitter Can Move Forward With First Amendment Lawsuit Over National Security Letter Reporting Limitations. So far, Twitter can only report NSLs according to "bands." A social media service receiving three NSLs or 300 has to report it as "0-499." Twitter is fighting to have these "bands" removed, in order to more accurately report the number of NSLs it receives.
This week in Turkey saw seemingly contradictory events. The beginning of the week saw the arrests of staff and members of human rights NGOs and lawyers, including several colleagues from Amnesty International and Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, while they were attending a workshop on digital security. The end of the week marked the final stretch of the 450km (280-mile) "justice" march against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which began on June 15th and drew hundreds of thousands of supporters.  
Liu Xiaobo: Dying dissident Liu Xiaobo must be allowed to travel, UK and EU urge China. Liu Xiaobo was jailed in 2009 for allegedly trying to topple China’s one-party state. He was given medical parole last month after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
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