Special Edition – Dunja Mijatović

Since the coronavirus became a pandemic, governments around the world have adopted a wide range of measures affecting basic human rights. This includes many of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe all of whom are legally bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. Most states have limited the freedoms of assembly and movement, some have also limited privacy and data protection ­and then there are some who have restricted freedom of expression through laws or policies banning false information.

To discuss the implications for freedom of expression is none other than the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who previously served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

In a statement on April 3rd, Dunja Mijatović wrote: “The global health problems caused by COVID-19 require effective measures to protect people’s health and lives. This includes combating disinformation that may cause panic and social unrest. Regrettably some governments are using this imperative as a pretext to introduce disproportionate restrictions to press freedom; this is a counterproductive approach that must stop. Particularly in times of crisis, we need to protect our precious liberties and rights.”

In this conversation we discuss:

  • The measures countries like Hungary, Romania, Russia and Azerbaijan, that typically target false information, have taken during the crisis.
  • How bad the situation has become for free expression in Europe because of corona-related restrictions.
  • Which types of restrictions that are particularly worrying and which countries that are of specific concern.
  • If combating misinformation is vital during this crisis, why is it a problem if states adopt exceptional measures? Article 10 paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows governments to interfere with free expression for the purpose of “public safety” and the “protection of health.”
  • According to case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the member states have a certain margin of appreciation when it comes to finding the right balance between convention rights (free speech) and competing interests (such as health and public safety). On the one hand the threat from Covid-19 give states a wide margin on appreciation, but on the other hand one could argue that access to information and scrutiny and debate of emergency measures is just as important.
  • What types of measures that would be consistent with freedom of expression. Would it be legitimate to ban or remove statements that contradicted health advice by WHO or the national health authorities?
  • Should journalists and media have more freedom than ordinary citizens expressing themselves on social media, blogs and so on.

Full Text of the April 3rd statement

Home page for Dunja Mijatović

Why have kings, emperors, and governments killed and imprisoned people to shut them up? And why have countless people risked death and imprisonment to express their beliefs? Jacob Mchangama guides you through the history of free speech from the trial of Socrates to the Great Firewall.

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