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Home Human Rights Archive for category "Freedom of Expression"

The Assange case and the UK’s global defence of media freedom

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 
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Human rights advocates often point to the lack of consistency and coherence between states’ stated commitments, on the one hand, and their actions, on the other. Even then, the tensions surrounding the UK’s recent approach to the goal of protecting media freedom globally and its projection seem striking.

Within less than a week, the UK government has gone from showcasing its new campaign to defend media freedom – specifically the appointment of the Foreign Secretary’s Special Envoy and a panel of legal experts “to support countries to repeal outdated and draconian laws and strengthen legal mechanisms to protect journalists”, as well as an international conference to be held in London on 10 and 11 July, co-hosted with the Canadian government (on 5 April) – to facing a chorus of warnings from wide range of human rights organisations, authorities and activists  – including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg – that the UK’s possible extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to face, at the moment, a single charge of conspiracy “to commit computer intrusion” would pose a threat the lawful and legitimate activity of journalists, especially their communications with their sources, setting a “dangerous precedent” for the future prosecution of “legacy” news media organisations.

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Legitimizing Blasphemy Laws Through the Backdoor: The European Court’s Judgment in E.S. v. Austria

Published on October 29, 2018        Author: 
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This past weekend Irish voters decided, by an overwhelming majority, to amend the Irish Constitution so as to decriminalize blasphemy. Just a few days before this referendum, however, a unanimous Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave its blessing to the criminalization of blasphemy, in all but name, in its judgment in E.S. v. Austria, no. 38450/12.

I have now read this judgment several times. Each time I read it I was left more disturbed. It applies the Court’s previous troubling precedents in this context – such as the notorious judgment in Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria – wholly uncritically, while even going beyond them in policing offensive speech. It unpersuasively tries to draw a distinction between blasphemy laws, which categorically impermissibly infringe on the freedom of speech, and the Austrian law at issue, as interpreted and applied by Austrian courts, which according to the Court strikes the right balance between the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. As I will explain, the Court’s distinctions are essentially meaningless and incapable of being applied in any non-arbitrary way, leading us not to a slippery slope of a further erosion of free speech, but to a cliff. Its reasoning lacks rigour and fetishizes the national margin of appreciation. Worst of all, the judgment will likely do nothing to promote religious tolerance in Europe, but will only help to further the narrative of Islamophobic closet neo-Nazis (who are, by the way, already in power in Austria, and not for the first time) that they are free speech martyrs , victimized in their own country by horrible minorities, elites and human rights lawyers.

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ECtHR Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 17, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights issued a highly anticipated blockbuster Chamber judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.

This is the first mass electronic surveillance case to be decided against the UK after the Edward Snowden revelations, and it touches upon numerous issues. The judgment is nuanced, complex, and long. It addresses key questions such as the proportionality of bulk interception programmes much more directly and with greater sophistication than the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08, which was decided by a different Chamber while this case was being deliberated, and which also upheld a bulk surveillance programme (see here for Asaf Lubin’s take on Just Security).

The judgment is too rich to summarize easily, so I will only set out some key takeaways (for an extensive discussion on surveillance and privacy in the digital age, see my 2015 Harvard ILJ piece).

First, and most importantly, the judgment is a mixed bag for privacy activists: while the Court finds that the UK’s surveillance programme under the now-defunct Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was deficient in important respects and in violation of Article 8 and 10 of the Convention, it at the same time normalizes such mass surveillance programmes. In particular, the Court decided that bulk interception programmes are not categorically disproportionate, as privacy activists have argued. Second, in a similar vein, the Court finds that prior judicial authorization is not indispensable for the legality of bulk interception, again contrary to what privacy activists have argued, even if prior judicial authorization could be seen as best practice (note that under the new 2016 Investigatory Powers Act the UK has moved to a double-authorization system which involves both a minister and an independent quasi-judicial commissioner).

Here are the key paragraphs (warning – extracts from the judgment make this a lengthy post):

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The Hartford Guidelines on Speech Crimes in International Criminal Law

Published on August 31, 2018        Author: 
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Armed conflicts and mass atrocities are usually preceded by a propaganda campaign in which politicians and public figures foment ethnic, national, racial or religious hatred, and incite their followers to acts of violence. Since the ancient Greeks, criminal law has held the person inciting the crime as responsible as the material perpetrator and yet historically, the international legal mechanisms available to interdict and punish inciters have been meager.

International tribunals face unique challenges when adjudicating international speech crimes such as direct and public incitement to commit genocide and instigating crimes against humanity. Courts must balance freedom of expression, a right protected by international conventions, with the need to regulate potentially harmful speech. Offences such as instigating persecution and incitement to genocide remain an unsettled area of international law where the evidence required to satisfy the elements is unclear. Recently at the ICC, prosecution cases relying heavily on speech acts to demonstrate a contribution to an alleged criminal plan have collapsed at the pre-trial or trial stage (e.g., Mbarushimana and Ruto/Sang). Even when the prosecution secures convictions, the legal reasoning in the judgments is often roundly criticized by legal scholars (e.g., Nahimana and Bikindi at the ICTR).

With inchoate crimes such as incitement to genocide, the primary task of the court is to determine the intentionality of the speaker, a task that is made more difficult by the fact that propagandists often use coded or euphemistic speech which courts may perceive as symbolic or expressive, rather than as directly advocating a crime. In the case of completed crimes, international courts must ascertain whether there is a causal nexus between the expression and any subsequent offence in complex, overdetermined situations where multiple forces are at work and intervening factors may exist. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Applicability of the ECHR in Contested Territories; Two Other ECHR Cases Against Russia

Published on July 19, 2018        Author: 
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Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights decided Sandu and Others v. the Republic of Moldova and Russia, nos. 21034/05 etc, the latest in its Ilascu line of cases (see here and here for more background). As in its previous case law, the Court in Sandu found that both Moldova and Russia exercised jurisdiction in the sense of Article 1 ECHR over the contested separatist territory of Transdniestria, the former on the basis of sovereign title, and the latter on the basis of its control over the area. In this case, which concerned property rights, the Court found Moldova to have discharged its positive obligations towards the applicants, and Russia not to have done so, thus incurring responsibility for violating the Convention. Like in its previous case law, it remains unclear whether the Court is attributing to Russia the conduct of Transdniestrian separatist authorities, or whether Russia is responsible for its own conduct of failing to exercise influence over these authorities so as to protect the applicants’ rights.

Coincidentally, Tatjana Papic and I have recently posted on SSRN the draft of an article on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories, forthcoming in the ICLQ , in which we provide a critique of the Court’s Ilascu jurisprudence. The abstract is below, and any comments are welcome:

This article examines the applicability of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) when a State loses control over parts of its territory. Such situations have increasingly arisen in cases before the European Court of Human Rights. For instance, the Court currently has on its docket an interstate case between Georgia and Russia, three interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, and thousands of individual applications which concern either Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. The article argues that the jurisprudence of the European Court, which insists on residual positive obligations based in sovereign title over territory, is problematic and needs to be rethought. The Court’s current approach is not only likely to provoke backlash, since it requires it to decide politically explosive questions of sovereign title, but does so for very little practical benefit for the protection of human rights. The article therefore explores more preferable alternatives.

Also this week the Court rendered two unrelated but very important judgments against Russia. First, regarding the 2006 killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Court found Russia responsible under Article 2 ECHR for failing to conduct a fully effective investigation into the killing, specifically because Russian authorities did not explore all feasible lines of investigation into the person or persons who contracted Politkovskaya’s assassination (Mazepa and Others v. Russia, no. 15086/07).

Second, the Court found Russia responsible for the violation of several human rights of three members of the Pussy Riot band, who were arrested, convicted and sentenced to two years of imprisonment for (very briefly) performing their song Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow (Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, no. 38004/12). Pussy Riot were of course very much in the news last weekend, after their pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow.

(Image: Sportimage/PA Images)

The most interesting part of the Pussy Riot judgment is the Article 10 analysis; the Court is not content with saying simply and easily that the sentence of imprisonment imposed on the applicants was disproportionate, but engages in line-drawing between hate speech and offensive speech, which is particularly relevant because the domestic crime that the applicants were convicted of incorporated a hatred element. The judgment also has a rather glorious appendix with several Pussy Riot songs (oh so very du jour, and reproduced below for entertainment value, together with the song at issue in the case itself).

 

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The IACtHR Advisory Opinion: one step forward or two steps back for LGBTI rights in Costa Rica?

Published on February 27, 2018        Author: 
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On 9th January 2018, the IACtHR issued Advisory Opinion No. 24 on gender identity, equality and non-discrimination for same-sex couples, a ground-breaking decision for the advancement of LGBTI rights in the Americas. However, the adverse effect it had on the recent presidential elections in Costa Rica may jeopardise this achievement.

The Advisory Opinion was requested by Costa Rica in 2016. the IACtHR was called to clarify the interpretation and scope of several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in relation to the following questions:

  1. Considering that gender identity is a protected category within the American Convention, does the state have an obligation to recognise and facilitate the change of name of individuals in accordance with their own gender identity?
  2. If so, is the judicial procedure for the change of name, instead of an administrative one, contrary to the American Convention?
  3. According to the American Convention, is the current Costa Rican judicial procedure for the change of name not applicable to individuals who wish to change their name based on their gender identity? Should they rather be given the possibility of resorting to a free, fast and accessible administrative procedure?
  4. Considering the duty not to discriminate on the basis sexual orientation, should the State recognize all patrimonial rights deriving from a same-sex relationship?
  5. If so, is it necessary for the State to establish a legal institution regulating the legal status of same-sex couples, and to recognise all patrimonial rights stemming from such relationships?

In response to the first three questions, the IACtHR recalled its jurisprudence on the matter (e.g. Atala Riffo and Daughters v Chile and Duque v Colombia) and strongly confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories under the American Convention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Gravity of the Past: Polish-Ukrainian Memory War and Freedom of Speech

Published on February 22, 2018        Author: 
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There is a power to the words ‘I remember’: the power of an event long past, exerting itself upon the present […] When the words begin a flow of warmth or love, it is a positive, binding power, but it is the most divisive and negative one possible when they lead on to events of death and destruction…

Ilana R. Bet-El

Collective memory matters politically: it provides a nation with an identity and common myth of origin, legitimizing power by creating a desired image of the past. This explains why states are preoccupied with memory, prescribing by law what has to be remembered and what must be forgotten. Revanchism, ethnic cleansing and war are all results of memory. The clash of historical narratives sponsored by states can destroy interstate relations. This happened in the case of Poland and Ukraine; these States were involved in memory war because of the attempts, from both sides, to instrumentilise history and use it for nationalist and populist goals.

These two countries were the ‘bloodlands’ during the Second World War. Yet, they have different memories of controversial events of the twentieth century. Describing the differing memories of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict Timothy Snyder writes:

[…] for patriotic Ukrainians the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists created a moment of Ukrainian sovereign action by declaring a Ukrainian state under Nazi occupation in 1941 and a lasting memory of national heroism by their doomed struggle, for Poles its UPA [the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. – A.Ch.] was the organization which cleansed Poles from Western Ukraine in 1943 and 1944. Ukrainian patriots […] are unwilling to accept that the UPA did commit mass race murder in 1943-4. Poles […] are apt to believe that the anti-Ukrainian military operations of 1944-7 were a direct result (and a just one) of the UPA’s earlier ethnic cleansing. Both views are substantially incorrect. The UPA did indeed brutally murder […] Polish civilians in 1943-3. But in 1944-7 the Polish communist regime acted to ‘resolve the Ukrainian question in Poland’, not only to liquidate the UPA […]. [C]leansing actions (the word used at the time) […] was carried out in the name of the Ukrainian nation against Poles and in the name of the Polish nation against Ukrainians.

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The Dissent in Bayev and Others v. Russia: A Window into an Illiberal World View

Published on July 7, 2017        Author: 
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A previous post discussed the majority opinion in Bayev and Others v. Russia, where the ECtHR found that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law violated the European Convention on Human Rights. I want to focus on the dissent. While the majority is important for its legal impact, the dissent is important for the window it provides into a non-Western world view. The previous post discusses the facts of the case, so I will dive right in.

One may dismiss a lone dissenter, especially one who decided in favor of the country he is from, but Judge Dedov shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly. Dedov didn’t dissent out of a bias in favor of his country, but from a fundamentally different world view than that of the Western judges. His world view isn’t isolated to Russia. I have been doing human rights work for the last few years in Armenia, and his views on LGBT people are shared by the majority in Armenia, if not by Eastern Europe generally. This view is part of the cultural divide between the “decadent West” and the “traditional East”. His dissent is significant because it may be the most thorough and rigorous articulation of the illiberal narrative. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Sermon from the Bench: Some Thoughts on the ECtHR Judgment in Bayev and Others v Russia

Published on June 27, 2017        Author: 
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On 20 June 2017, the ECtHR rendered a judgment in the Bayev and Others v Russia. The judgment brought some much needed good news for LGBT rights. Against the backdrop of persecution of gay men in Chechnya and the steady deterioration of the position of LGBT people in Russia generally, the ECtHR showed its activist colours in ruling that Russia’s so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law violates human rights. The authors enthusiastically welcome and applaud the outcome. That being said, the Bayev judgment at times seems to leave the law ‘behind’ and strays from judicial decision to sermon, in a way that may ultimately undermine the efforts of the Court to move protections forward. Of note in this regard is the wording at times employed by the Court, and its understanding of the boundaries of its competence.

The Bayev case is the result of a challenge, brought by three gay activists, against what is often referred to as Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law. Read the rest of this entry…

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President Erdogan versus Jan Böhmermann: Do Bad Poems Make Bad Law? – Reforming the Defamation of Foreign Heads of States under German Criminal Law

Published on June 23, 2017        Author:  and
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Note: Revised and translated version of a statement made before the Legal Committee of the German Bundestag at an expert hearing on 17 May 2017, further elaborating on questions that were raised by Veronika Bílková in her EJIL:Talk! post “Thouh shalt not Insult the (Foreign) Head of State?”, dated 28 April 2016 and commenting on subsequent developments.

1. Prologue

In 2016, after the Turkish government had requested the deletion of a satirical song about Turkish President Erdogan, aired on a German TV show, the Turkish Head of State became the subject of another, rather vulgar, satirical poem fittingly titled “Schmähkritik” (“defamatory critique”), recited by the German comedian Jan Böhmermann on his TV show in March, 2016. This in turn led to the initiation of a criminal investigation against the said German comedian, instigated both by the Turkish government, as well as by Turkish President Erdogan personally. Thereafter, President Erdogan also pressed civil charges against Böhmermann before German courts. As far as the criminal proceedings initiated by the Turkish government were concerned, a violation of Section 103 Criminal Code was claimed which currently still provides as follows:

Section 103 German Criminal Code
Defamation of organs and representatives of foreign states

(1) Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years.

Section 104a German Criminal Code further provides that before any such criminal proceedings under Section 103 German Criminal Code may be initiated, the German government has to formally authorize such proceedings: Read the rest of this entry…

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