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DECISIONS THIS WEEK
March 14, 2016
Dear Friends,

This week we are pleased to feature three recent decisions which uphold international standards on freedom of expression. In Yarce v. Colombia, The Inter-American Court concluded that Colombia had failed to guarantee the necessary protections and means for human rights defenders to freely exercise their work. In Russia, the Constitutional Court overturned two lower court decisions that held an activist criminally liable for violating freedom of assembly laws. Citing international and regional case law, the Court found that the State must not use arbitrary means to restrict public assembly, and does not have complete freedom to act even when assembly participants violate established regulations or laws. In Selmani v. Macedonia, the European Court of Human Rights held that the forcible removal of journalists from the gallery of the Parliament of Macedonia was a violation of the right to freedom of expression. In light of the recent wave of threats to freedom of expression, these rulings give us some confidence that the courts are responding to illiberal trends. 

Lastly, from Northern Ireland, J20 v. Facebook Ireland Ltd rules over the liability of social media platforms for content posted by their users. 

We hope  you enjoy reading the summaries below as well as the full analyses!
We have updated our Facebook page, so please take a look and Like or even review the page! In an effort to create a forum for our followers, we have opened up the page to allow posts. We encourage you to post interesting content and comments related to global freedom of expression.

For the Record

We will be at RightsCon 2017! If you are there on March 29, please join our panel on “Resisting illiberal trends: The role of courts in protecting freedom of expression in a complex world”

A Joint Declaration on freedom of expression and “fake news”, disinformation and propaganda was issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. The declaration was prepared in consultation with ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).  

David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Dubravka Šimonović , Special Rapporteur on violence against women, marked International Women’s Day with a call for governments, companies and civil society organisations to tackle online gender-based abuse and violence, while also safeguarding freedom of expression. For more on how stakeholders can make regulations work for protecting freedom of expression in the complex on-line environment see The Way Forward,” an interview conducted by IFEX with Dr. Agnès Callamard.

“Never give in; never give up. Eternal vigilance is the price of a free press.” - Dunja Mijatović’s final words after 7 remarkable years as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. During her tenure she worked on the frontlines of protecting free speech in an era dominated by increasing tensions and degradation. As of now, no one has been appointed to replace her.  

Latin-America

Colombia

Yarce v. Colombia
Decision Date: November 22, 2016
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Colombia had breached, among others, the right to freedom of association of four female human rights defenders. The case arose in the context of an armed conflict in Colombia, during which five women were subjected to harassment and intimidation for their human rights work. One of these women, Mrs. Yarce, was assassinated. A petition was filed on behalf of the five women to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which then submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Court concluded that Colombia had failed to guarantee the necessary means for four of the women to exercise freely their work as human rights defenders. In relation to Mrs. Yarce, the Inter-American Court held that Colombia failed to guarantee her right to life.
 
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression found that this decision expands expression by recognizing that a state has a positive obligation to protect their citizens when they are exercising their right to freedom of association, and to guarantee the conditions necessary for exercising the right. In this regard, the Court highlighted that human rights defenders who work within a certain community, need to be located in that community to carry out their work. This case also highlights the variety of remedies that can be ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, including orders to promote the work of NGOs and human rights defenders.

Europe and Central Asia 

Russia

The Case of the Constitutionality of Article 212 brought by I.I. Dadin
Decision Date: February 10, 2017
The Constitutional Court of Russia held that a person could be held criminally liable for repeatedly violating laws regulating public assembly, but only if the violations resulted in harm to health, property, the environment, public order, national security or other constitutionally protected values. The case was brought by Dadin I.I., a long-term opposition and LGBT rights activist, who was imprisoned for his repeated participation in unsanctioned public assemblies. Two separate courts escalated his case from an administrative to a criminal violation, which penalizes repeat violations of public assembly laws with heavy fines, imprisonment or forced labor. The lower instance courts found him guilty and he was imprisoned for two years. On appeal, The Constitutional Court of Russia upheld international standards and ruled that although the right to public assembly in Russia is not absolute and could be limited, it must be in compliance with the principles of necessity and proportionality, and must not pose an obstacle to an open and free expression of viewpoints, opinions, and demands. Citing European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence the Court further held that the State must not use arbitrary means to violate the right to public assembly, and does not have complete freedom to act even when assembly participants violate established regulations or laws. Therefore, the court concluded that the lower courts had erred in their judgment and the case was ordered for retrial.  
 

Macedonia

Selmani v. Macedonia
Decision Date: February 9, 2017
The European Court of Human Rights held that the forcible removal of journalists from the gallery of the Parliament of Macedonia was a violation of the right to freedom of expression. On December 24, 2012, the security service of the Macedonian Parliament forcibly removed journalists from the gallery when the parliamentary debate on the country’s annual budget became severely disrupted by some politicians in the Chamber below. Drawing on its precedent, the European Court emphasized that any attempt to remove journalists from places of public disorder, demonstration, or even disturbance in parliament would be subject to "strict scrutiny" given the “public watchdog” role of the media. The Court reasoned that, in the present case, there was no indication that the disorderly behavior of the Macedonian lawmakers was violent or likely to put the journalists' lives in danger. The European Court found that the Government of Macedonia had failed to demonstrate that the removal was "necessary in a democratic society".
 

Northern Ireland

J20 v. Facebook Ireland Ltd
Decision Date: December 20, 2016
The High Court of Northern Ireland found Facebook Ireland Ltd liable for "misuse of private information" due to disparaging posts hosted on its social media site.  A man (J20) sued Facebook Ireland Ltd for harassment and "misuse of private information" for posts on three different pages that included remarks about his political affiliation, personal history, his relationship with his children, his children's religious affiliation, and his possible status as a police informant. The Court rejected the harassment claim finding the posts did “not cross the boundary between what is unattractive and unreasonable as opposed to what is oppressive and unacceptable.” However, the Court found that the information relating to J20's children and the accusations that he was a police informant were private. Moreover, the Court determined that Facebook was not exempt from liability since it had received "actual notice" of the unlawfulness of the posts through their online complaints procedure and a solicitor's letter and had decided not to take the posts down.
 

Other Noteworthy News


Monitoring Human Rights and Freedom of Expression New Initiatives Recent Victories
  • Georgia: the ECtHR indefinitely prolonged its suspension of a Supreme Court decision that transferred the ownership of Rustavi2, the most popular independent TV station in the country into the hands of a person closely tied to the ruling party.
Professional Development
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. 

 
For comments or inquiries please email us at globalfreespeech@columbia.edu 
Copyright © 2017 Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, All rights reserved.


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