New on CYRILLA: Online freedom of expression cases from around the world

CYRILLA has now uploaded 383 additional online freedom of expression cases. The cases were collected by Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University (CGFE), which is a member of the CYRILLA Collaborative. As part of their work, CGFE maintains the Global Database of Freedom of Expression Law, which includes an Arabic-language version recently launched at SMEX’s annual regional unconference, Bread&Net 2019, as well as a Spanish-language version. The database surveys jurisprudence around the world, critically reviews exemplary cases, engages in comparative analysis, and aims to identify national, regional and global trends. It currently includes more than 1,370 freedom of expression cases from over 130 countries. 

One of the new cases available on CYRILLA is WA and WB v. Mamedov from Kazakhstan. In 2018, Mamedov E.A. filmed two women kissing in a cinema in Kazakhstan, and posted the video on his Facebook page immediately after. He left a comment on the post: “They are possibly someone’s children, sisters or acquaintances. Repost to start a conversation, maybe it is possible to reach them, to change, or at least to shame them.” The video went viral, and, by the time Mamedov took down the post 24-hours later, it had already amassed 60,000 views. Reactions to the video included hate speech and violent threats directed at the women, who, fearing for their safety, were forced to flee the country. Last year, they sued Mamedov for violating their right to privacy.

The court of first instance found for the women, and held that Mamedov, by failing to ask their permission, had indeed caused them harm. The appellate court, however, overturned this verdict, holding that Mamedov was simply exercising his freedom of expression to defend the morals of Kazakh society. By posting the video on Facebook, a media entity, this brought Mamedov’s actions in line with the Law on Mass Media, which contains an exemption from liability for failing to obtain consent to share a video or image if it’s done with the aim of protecting morals. The women appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which held that Mamedov violated the right to privacy guaranteed by Article 18(1) of the Constitution of Kazakhstan and Article 115(3) of the Civil Code. Because of Mamedov’s actions, the women became objects of scrutiny, their private lives became public, and their relationships with colleagues and relatives deteriorated. The Supreme Court reinstated the first instance judgment, and the women were eventually compensated.

WA and WB v. Mamedov demonstrates the complexities of balancing freedom of expression with other fundamental rights, like privacy and dignity, and how technology has transformed the arguments and defenses raised by either side. Hawley Johnson, Associate Director of CGFE, explains: “In an age where freedom of expression is under siege on many fronts, we aim to provide lawyers, human rights defenders, academics and others with tools to uphold international standards of protection. The database provides comparative case law on numerous digital rights issues as diverse as defamation, surveillance, blasphemy and data privacy among many others. Partnering with the CYRILLA has provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to collaborate with advocacy organizations working on the frontlines of digital rights so we can expand our coverage of emerging legal trends globally.”

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