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Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University: Newsletter

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Join members of the High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom  and their guests at the launch of the Panel’s enforcement report entitled, Providing Safe Refuge to Journalists at Risk. The eminent panel of speakers, including report author, English barrister, Member of the High Level Panel and Columbia Global Freedom of Expression expert, Professor Can Ye─činsu, together with Lord Neuberger, Ms Amal Clooney, Dr Courtney Radsch and Baroness Kennedy QC, will discuss a set of specific recommendations that States can implement to provide safe, reliable, and effective relocation pathways for journalists at risk. Wednesday 25 November 2020. Places are strictly limited, register now to secure your place.

● Save the date: SMEX’s annual “unconference” for the MENA digital rights  community, Bread&Net 2020nline, will be held from the 1st to the 4th of December. This year’s focus is on new regional challenges, including those stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, organized around five main themes: Policy and Advocacy in Difficult Contexts; Digital Security; Resilient Communities; Tech-knowledgy; and Autonomous Alternatives. Register now before the 21st of November.

● The general body of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has elected a new council and called on the state to improve its human rights record—in particular to protect freedom of expression and to ensure that charges of sedition and terrorism and the practice of enforced disappearances are not used to stamp out dissent. HRCP further expressed strong concern over the surge in blasphemy cases against the Shia community.

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Case of Laguna Guzman v. Spain
Decision Date: October 6, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights found that the forceful and violent dispersal of a demonstration by police officers that injured a protester violated her freedom of assembly. The case concerned Ms Guzman who was peacefully protesting as part of a spontaneous demonstration when she, along with others, was attacked and incapacitated by police officers in their effort to disperse the demonstration. A local court found that the State was liable for the conduct of the police whose response had been disproportionate. The Constitutional Court found Ms Guzman’s appeal, arguing her rights to freedom of thought, of expression and of assembly and association had been violated, inadmissible. Taking into account the fact that the protests were peaceful and there was no evidence that they caused public disorder, the European Court held that the violent method used by the police to disperse the protesters was not justified and amounted to a disproportionate interference.  Accordingly, the Court found that Ms Guzman’s right to freedom of assembly under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights had been violated.

Case of Timakov and OOO ID Rubezh v. Russia
Decision Date: September 8, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights found that Russia was in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights when its domestic courts’ held a journalist and  publisher guilty in civil defamation proceedings. The applicant Timakov, a local political figure, journalist and partner in a publishing company, claimed in two newspaper articles that the Governor of the Tula Region was corrupt, which led to the filing of defamation proceedings for damaging the Governor’s reputation. The European Court found that the national courts did not balance the interests of the Governor in protecting his reputation against the right to freedom of expression and the interests of the public in receiving information on matters of public concern. It further found that the national courts failed to distinguish between ‘statement of facts’ and ‘value judgements,’ the penalties were excessive enough to have a chilling effect on the role of the press as a public watchdog and that Russia exceeded its margin of appreciation. Accordingly, the Court found that such an interference with the right to freedom of expression was disproportionate and not necessary in a democratic society where criticism of government officials should be allowed within permissible limits for public interest.

Qayoom v. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir
Decision Date: May 28, 2020
The Supreme Court of India confirmed an agreement reached between the parties that a lawyer in the Kashmir Valley would be released from the “preventative detention” he had been held in for a year on suspicion of his “secessionist ideology”. The lawyer’s wife had brought a habeas corpus application after her husband was detained “with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. A single judge of the High Court and the Division Bench of the High Court confirmed the legality of his detention on the grounds that the State was justified detaining him if they believed his ideology had the potential to disturb the public order. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the case as – on the Court’s urging – the State had agreed to release the lawyer on the condition that he did not return to his hometown for seven days and did not make public statements.

Post Scriptum

● The European Union has agreed to stricter rules on the sale and export of cyber-surveillance technologies like facial recognition and spyware. The regulation requires companies to get a government license to sell technology with military applications; calls for more due diligence on such sales to assess the possible human rights risks; and requires governments to publicly share details of the licenses they grant. These sales are typically cloaked in secrecy, meaning that multibillion-dollar technology is bought and sold with little public scrutiny. Details of the plan were reported in Politico last month.

● Techdirt Podcast: How Would You Regulate The Internet? There are countless debates raging over every aspect of internet regulation — questions of social media moderation, net neutrality, antitrust, copyright, privacy, and plenty more.  In this latest podcast, Techdirt speaks with international policy expert and former European Parliament member Marietje Schaake for a long conversation that starts out focused on criticisms of Facebook and quickly expands into a far-reaching look at what the next generation of internet regulation might look like.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.

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