Freedom of expression

By NHRI mandate

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By country

Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria

The Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria is monitoring the execution of the final European Court of Human Rights judgments in the case of Bozhkov v. Bulgaria. The case relates to the violation of the right to the freedom of expression of journalists (art. 10 ECHR) due to the fact that he reported about alleged corrupt practices. Related to the above, the Ombudsman issued a statement and invited state authorities to address a gap in whistleblower protection and ensure the timely and effective transposition of the EU Whistleblower Directive.

Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia

The Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia has drawn attention to the challenges and threats faced by human rights defenders and civil society in both Europe and Georgia. The Public Defender dedicated a chapter to this topic in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 annual reports it submitted to parliament. The reports underlined an increasing trend of verbal abuse, physical assaults, intimidation, and defamation, including by high-ranking political officials. Specifically, the reports pointed to challenges faced by women and LGBTI+ defenders and voiced concerns about cyber threats against and the bullying of human rights defenders. The reports analysed the rights of peaceful assembly, association and expression, as well as media freedom. The NHRI called on law enforcement agencies to undertake effective, timely investigations into any cases of human rights defenders at risk. It also provided recommendations to the government on the promotion and protection of human rights defenders.

Ombudsman of Spain

In Spain, the Organic Law on the Protection of Citizens’ Security was adopted in 2015. The law extends the sanctioning power of the country’s General State Administration and could facilitate inaccurate legal interpretations, leaving things at the discretion of the police. At the same time, it could hinder media freedoms and citizens’ ability to mobilise.

The Ombudsman of Spain has repeatedly asked for its modification. It has made recommendations relating to external body searches on public roads, offences in the context of meetings and demonstrations, and the use of images or data by the police. Recent annual reports of the Ombudsman have advocated the reform of some aspects of this Law, seeking the right balance between security and freedom.

Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary

Civil society organisations are not always consulted on draft laws that may impact their activities and work. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary has called on ministries to ensure that civil society organisations can meaningfully participate in and be consulted during the drafting of draft laws and bills relevant to their work and beyond.

Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights

In June 2021, the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (FIRM-IFDH) commented on three proposed laws aimed at prohibiting the creation and allowing the dissolution of certain groups and organisations formed to incite hatred, violence or discrimination. These proposals were also meant to allow the sanctioning of those who set up, assist, or are members of such organisations. While FIRM-IFDH welcomed the legislator’s continued commitment to combat such organisations, it noted that the current legal framework was sufficient in this regard. It further stressed that alternative sanctions to dissolution were more proportionate and less likely to impact the right of association. FIRM-IFDH also emphasised that any dissolution of an association or a group should be decided by the judiciary, not by the executive. 

People’s Advocate of Moldova

The activities of human rights defenders and civil society in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova have been restricted by rules and laws that limit their right to information and ability to express opposition to Transnistrian authorities. Human rights defenders’ freedom of expression was violated in 2020 when defenders were arrested and intimidated. In response, the People’s Advocate of Moldova issued recommendations to Moldovan authorities, mediators and observers. These aimed to make sure these parties applied international law and guaranteed the protection of human rights when designing measures to address the situation.

Consultative Human Rights Commission of Luxembourg

In 2018, the government of Luxembourg drafted amendments to the law Nº 6961 aimed at strengthening the protection of classified information. This was to be done by incorporating a security clearance system, mainly implemented by the National Safety Authority. In 2019, the Consultative Human Rights Commission of Luxembourg published an opinion on how the draft negatively impacted the right to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as to the protection of personal data. The NHRI expressed concerns that the law does not provide an exception for journalists or whistleblowers who report information about threats or harm to the public interest. The opinion provided recommendations to the government to ensure a human rights compliant revision of the draft legislation, one in which whistleblowers, informants and journalists are sufficiently protected. Additionally, the opinion advised on setting out clear modalities for the collection/use of personal data and avoiding excessive interference with privacy. The opinion took European regulations, European Court of Human Rights case law, and Council of Europe standards into account.

Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation

In recent years, the role of new electronic media, YouTube channels and bloggers has significantly expanded, covering meetings and events that remain outside the attention of traditional media. Although bloggers perform the same function as journalists, their work is not always perceived as journalistic activity. This deprives them of the protection set forth in the Law ‘On Mass Media’. This gap in legislation negatively affects journalists’ right to freedom of expression and citizens’ right to access information. In this regard, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation has been working on the detention of and imposition of administrative sanctions on journalists and bloggers covering unauthorised public events. The High Commissioner recommended to amend the legislation by defining the legal status of bloggers. It also recommended that law enforcement agencies refrain from detaining journalists and bloggers present at the venue of an unauthorised public event in order to cover it.

People’s Advocate of Moldova

As the authority responsible for ensuring whistleblower protection in Moldova, the People’s Advocate of Moldova created a form for submitting request and alerts on their website. Through this, whistleblowers can liaise with the NHRI on reviewing their case.

Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia

The Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Batumi City Court regarding the internal and social media code of conduct of Adjara TV. The code restricted the freedom of expression of company employees. The NHRI analysed the cases of four employees and established that their dismissal or move to another position contravened Georgia’s Labour Code and Adjara TV’s internal labour regulations. The Public Defender recommended that the Adjara TV director restore the rights of the employees. As this was not done, the NHRI asked the Prosecutor General to launch an investigation. The Public Defender also contacted both the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in relation to the case.

People’s Advocate of Moldova

The People’s Advocate of the Republic of Moldova closely monitors threats to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, while publishing public statements to support human rights defenders and prevent polarisation within society. In one case, a politician verbally threatened media actors and civil society representatives criticising his political activities and position. In response, the NHRI issued a statement condemning his discourse. This was supported by OHCHR and major human rights organisations in the country. The NHRI also reacted promptly in 2018 when a mayor expressed threatening statements to journalists and in 2020 when government officials attacked the press. It issued statements calling on the national authorities and the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate. 

Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia

The Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia has completed the technical development of a unique platform for registering and tracking harassment and attacks experienced by journalists and others working in the media. Once operational and running, the platform will, help ensure faster and more efficient responses from the competent authorities in the reported cases of violations of media freedom and freedom of expression. It will also provide a broader and more comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by journalists and contribute to enhanced public confidence in state institutions. In 2021, the platform was presented to the Government Working Group for the Safety and Protection of Journalists established in 2020.

People’s Advocate of Albania

At the end of 2020, a young person was murdered by a state police employee. This caused nationwide protests lasting several days that demanded the responsible person be brought to justice. The People’s Advocate of Albania launched an investigation into police conduct when arresting journalists during these protests. Media reports documented several media actors being taken to police premises. The NHRI recommended that the police analyse the cases in terms of what constitutes lawful conduct of police officers when escorting individuals. It also recommended that the police guarantee the media’s right to cover protests; train police officers to improve their conduct towards media actors; avoid violating the rights of escorted persons; and establish special rules concerning the treatment of media actors. The police have followed up on the recommendations with concrete measures and actions addressing them.

Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation

During the unauthorised public events of January and February 2021, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation established a working group to immediately review and take urgent measures to respond to all complaints received through the NHRI’s hotline. Some complaints related to alleged violations to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, access to a lawyer, obstruction of journalists’ activities and administrative detention conditions. In total, 83 requests for verification of persons under administrative arrest were submitted to the prosecutorial and government authorities. Moreover, the High Commissioner held in-person meetings with representatives of the human rights community on the above-mentioned issues, and members of her Office visited internal affairs departments and special detention centres for persons under administrative detention.