Friday, June 27, 2008

Danish court rejects cartoons hate speech appeal

Jurist legal news has this today:

Denmark newspaper not liable for Muhammad cartoons
Andrew Gilmore at 12:17 PM ET

Photo source or description
[JURIST] The Vestre Landsret [court website, in Danish], one of the two second-highest appeals courts in Denmark, denied [text, PDF, in Danish] Wednesday an appeal of a 2006 lower court judgment [JURIST report] dismissing a lawsuit concerning caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive]. The defamation lawsuit was brought by seven Muslim groups against Jyllands-Posten [newspaper website], a Danish newspaper that printed satirical cartoons depicting [Le Monde slideshow] the Prophet Muhammad, and two of the newspaper's editors. The cartoons, including one which associated the Prophet with terrorism, caused international anger that resulted in wide-spread demonstrations, multiple deaths, the burning of Danish embassy buildings [JURIST reports], boycotts of Danish goods, and violent clashes throughout the Muslim world. The Vestre Landsret agreed with the judgment of the City Court of Aarhus that while some Muslims may be offended by the cartoons, they were an exercise in free speech, and there was no reason to believe the editors intended to insult Muslims. AP has more.

The seven Muslim groups filed the lawsuit in March 2006, following the announcement [text] by Denmark's Director of Public Prosecutions [official website] Henning Fode that the government would not press criminal charges [JURIST report] against the newspaper or its employees. A Jordanian court convicted editors [JURIST report] of two national newspapers in May 2006 and sentenced them to two months' imprisonment for publishing the cartoons. In January, a former newspaper editor in Belarus was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for reprinting the cartoons in the Zhoda newspaper. In February, Jyllands-Posten reprinted the cartoons, drawing condemnation and protests in Indonesia, Sudan, and Afghanistan [JURIST reports], among other places. Also in February, a tape recording allegedly made by Osama bin Laden was released, threatening retaliation against European Union countries [Reuters report] for reprinting the cartoons.

Costa Rica Supreme Court recognises protection of sources

The Supreme Court of Costa Rica has recognised the right of journalists to protect their sources. Nothing in English yet, and I can't make too much sense from the Spanish press release, but generally this sounds good.

Malik rebuked by court, ordered to pay cost: sources case update

The High Court has now rebuked Malik for seeking a full judicial review, ordered him to pay full costs and to hand over his research notes. This judgment, which doesn't seem to have made it onto yet, seems wrong to me: Malik had every right to bring the rview. First of all, on the facts, since it is clear from the original production order that the police are a fishing expedition here; and secondly because the law on sources continues to be very much in flux, with this being the first case under the terrorism act and on-going developments at the ECHR (see for example Voskuil v. the Netherlands, last year). Malik's case is backed by the NUJ and the Sunday Times; I hope he'll appeal.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Malik v Manchester Crown Court & Ors: High Court rules for police, but production order must be narrowed down

Manchester Police can seek access to a journalist's research notes, but the production order must be suitably narrow, the High Court ruled in the case of Malik v. Manchester Crown Court. Lord Justice Dyson, writing for the Court, said:

"A balance has to be struck between the protection of confidential material of journalists and the interest of us all in facilitating effective terrorist investigations. It is for the court to strike that balance ... It is for the police to satisfy the court that the balance should be struck in favour of making a production order."

The case was the first brought under Schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

UN appoints Frank La Rue as Freedom of Expression Rapporteur

After some last-minute consultation, a very angry looking Egyptian and a statement by Uruguay strongly supporting his candidacy, Frank La Rue was elected new UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Good choice; he's a strong believer in human rights, freedom of expression and will have the wherewithal to interpret his new mandate wisely.

Death sentence for blasphemy reports:

"A Pakistani court handed down the death sentence to a man convicted of blasphemy on Wednesday, court officials said.

Shafeeq Lateef was charged with passing derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed and desecrating pages of the Quran near the city of Sialkot in Punjab province on March 17, 2006.

District and Sessions Judge Suhaib Ahmed Roomi of Sialkot awarded the death sentence to Lateef following his conviction for blasphemy. The judge gave him a separate life sentence for desecrating the Quran. The court also directed Lateef to pay a fine of Rs five lakh.

Lateef was produced in the court amidst tight security. A conviction for blasphemy in Pakistan carries the death penalty. Lateef has the right to appeal in higher courts.

The prosecution said Lateef had thrown pages of the Quran in a dirty place and passed derogatory remarks against the Prophet. Some persons caught Lateef and handed him over to police, following which he was charged under blasphemy laws."

This is truly awful and contrasts sharply with statements by the Pakistani Information Minister about how the new government values freedom of expression. I do hope something is done about this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strasbourg court rules - finally - for A1+

The European Court of Human Rights this morning delivered its judgment in the second application by Armenian broadcasters A1+ and ruled that the denial of a licence on seven occasions did not meet requirements of lawfulness and therefore constituted a violation of the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression.

This is a very significant decision both as regards A1+ itself and as regards the wider consequences. The judgment refers to guidelines adopted by the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and states, point blank, that any process by which licences are awarded or denied simply on a points basis and no further reasons are given violates Article 10 of the ECHR. In this, it entrenches and expands the Court's 2007 similar judgment in Glas Nadezhda Eood v. Bulgaria. I haven't surveyed laws in other countries but my gut feeling is that this will have implications across Europe.

Note that A1+'s first application, no. 37780/02, was rejected ratione temporis at the tail-end of May 2008, and that we are still awaiting judgment in Noyan Tapan's not dissimilar application (37784/02 - declared partly admissible in 2004).

Monday, June 16, 2008

French introduce user-driven hate speech blocking scheme

See here for details on a new deal struck between French authorities and ISPs to block "sites carrying child pornography or content linked to terrorism or racial hatred". The deal was announced by the French interior minister, and it seems that the French will use their upcoming EU Presidency to promote a similar scheme Europe-wide.

I would like to see the terms of the agreement - particularly as regards the hate speech and anti-racism provisions, which seem to me to be open to potentially wide interpretation and which can result in user-driven censorship rather than user-driven removal of child porn.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Council of Europe ministers urge Ukraine to make haste with Gongadze investigation

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has urged Ukraine to take serious steps to progress the investigation of the Gongadze killing. The Committee issued a Resolution as part of the follow-up procedure to the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case, which declared Ukraine in breach of articles 2 (right to life), 3 (freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) and 13 (right to an effective remedy).

ECOWAS Court orders release of journalist

In a landmark ruling, the ECOWAS Court of Justice has ordered the release of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh. It also awarded USD100,000 in damages against the Gambian government. Manneh was last seen when he was arrest by Gambian security forces some time ago; his present whereabouts are officially unknown. The Gambian authorities have denied they hold him; it did not cooperate in the proceedings before the ECOWAS Court.

This is the first freedom of expression ruling by the ECOWAS Court, or any African regional court, and will likely lead to more cases being lodged there. It is the only international human rights court not to require that local remedies are exhausted before a case can be lodged.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Indonesian Constitutional Court petitioned to remove prison sentences for libel

LBH Pers, an Indonesian legal aid group for press, have lodged a petition before the Indonesian Constitutional Court asking it to declare that the sanction of imprisonment in defamation cases is a disproportionate and unconstitutional restriction on the right to freedom of expression. Specifically, the Court has been asked to review Articles 207, 310(1,2), 311(1) and 316 of the Criminal Code. Under Articles 310(1,2) and 311(1), those found guilty of defamation or libel face jail terms of up to four years. The Court has also been asked to review Articles 207 and 316 because they provide "special treatment and protection" to state officials and could harm freedom of expression.

There is a mixed track record for freedom of expression at Indonesian higher courts. In July 2007, the Constitutional Court struck a blow for freedom of expression when it held that two colonial criminal code provisions on sedition and hate speech violated the right to freedom of expression. Earlier, in December 2006, the Constitutional Court declared various criminal provisions that provided special protection to the president and other public figures for insult were incompatible with the constitutional right to freedom of expression (a translation of the decision should eventually appear here). And also in 2006, the Supreme Court overturned a prison sentence for defamation against Bambang Harymurti. However, in 2007, the Supreme Court awarded Suharto 100mUSD in defamation damages in a case against Time Asia and USD600,000 against Jawa Pos, judgments widely seen as indicating a worsening climate for media freedom.

Philippines court imprisons journalist for libel

Daily Tribune publisher Ninez Cacho–Olivares, a journalist with over 20 years experience, has been sentenced by the Makati regional trial court to a prison term of six months to two years and a fine of more than 5m Pesos (roughly USD100,000) for libel. Olivares had written a piece, in 2003, which alleged that then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo chose people “connected” to a particular law firm to handle a complaint by its client Asia’s Emerging Dragons Corp. against the winning bidder in the build-operate contract for an airport terminal and former secretaries of the Department of transportation and communications.

The sanction is in clear defiance of a recent Supreme Court circular that all but removed imprisonment as a sanction for defamation (although it did not say it in so many words).

The case has been appealed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Free expression - religion rumblings continue (so what else is new), names of UN candidates published

Further to the UN Human Rights Council amending the Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression (the proceedings of which I posted a video of earlier), both the Council itself and Pakistan, which sponsored the mutilating amendment, have recently defended themselves against the criticism. The director of Pakistan's Foreign Ministry's human rights department said the abuse of free expression to defame religions, for example in the film Fitna, was seriously divisive to societies and needed to be checked. The chair of the Human Rights Council, Doru-Romulus Costea, reportedly called the criticism "premature". The Council appoints a new rapporteur June 18; the front runner is Frank William La Rue Levy, former Chair of the Guatemalan Presidential Committee on Human Rights. Other candidates are Alfred Maurice de Zayas and Judy McGregor.

In other news... Danish press report that the Jordanian prosecutor has summonsed the cartoonists and editor behind the recent republication of the Mohamed cartoons. The purpose of this: not necessarily getting them before a Jordanian court, but to keep going the discussion on the interplay between freedom of expression and (the claimed right to be free from insult on) religion. My two cents on that: the cartoons were and are a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. While surely offensive they did not incite hatred against anyone, other than against the cartoonists and the country they were from but incitement of hatred against oneself is not the kind of incitement that is illegal under international law....

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

British news websites liable abroad for invasion of privacy

In many ways it is a surprise that it has taken this long: Mirror Group Newspapers and Associated Newspapers have been found guilty in France of invasion of privacy for stories on their respective newspaper websites about Kylie Minogue and her ex, Olivier Martinez. Martinez was awarded €4,500 per publication. Although it is in my view wholly predictable that this would happen, it does create a significant chill on media freedom in the UK: with pretty much every newspaper now publishing on-line, French privacy laws, which are notoriously stricter than the British, may well now set the standard. I don't believe this is a good thing - particularly with the Mosley cases pending in the French courts... Something to consider in the European Commission's pending review of the scope of the Rome II Convention?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

CoE Access to Information Convention now at PACE

Just a note here: the Committee of Ministers has transmitted the draft Convention on access to official documents and the draft Explanatory Memorandum to the Parliamentary Assembly. Another lobbying opportunity.

More contempt charges for journalists at ICTY

Baton Haxhiu is the latest journalist to be charged for contempt of court by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He is alleged to have revealed the identity of a protected witness in a piece he wrote in 2007.

Haxhiu has joined a growing group of journalists, all from the Balkans, who have faced contempt proceedings for revealing the identity of protected witnesses. Others include Ivica Marijacic and Josip Jovic (Jonathan Randal is perhaps the best-known contempt defendant before the tribunal, but his case concerned the journalistic privilege not to testify in court unless as a last resort).

The cases are all on the murky side but do raise important questions of freedom of expression and the administration of justice. The Representative on Freedom of the Media of the OSCE even intervened in the Josip Jovic case, when the 'protected witness' was a very prominent Croatian politician. Jovic was eventually convicted and ordered to pay 20,000 Euros, and his conviction was upheld on appeal (the tribunal published a useful summary of the proceedings against him).