Freedom of Expression

ICHR Finds Ecuador Responsible for Violating Whistleblower’s Freedom of Expression

By: Carlos Dominguez Scheid

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ICHR) issued a decision on November 27, 2023, with formal notification delivered on March 22, 2024, ruling that Ecuador is responsible for violating the freedom of expression of a whistleblower who reported corruption within the country’s Armed Forces.

Julio Rogelio Viteri Ungaretti | Photo courtesy of BBC News.

The Court’s judgment emphasizes the critical role of freedom of speech in ensuring transparency and accountability in government operations. It brings to light the significant challenges faced by individuals exposing misconduct, especially within military contexts, and establishes an important precedent for handling similar cases across the region.

The case involves Mr. Julio Rogelio Viteri Ungaretti, who reported suspected corruption within the Armed Forces in 2000, resulting in several sanctions against him. The Court reviewed the effects of corruption on democracy and human rights, emphasizing the necessity for states to create a supportive environment for whistleblowers and individuals engaged in anti-corruption activities.

The Court discussed the responsibility following the exercise of free speech concerning corruption allegations, noting that such cases are of public interest due to their impact on human rights. It affirmed the importance of society’s right to be informed about corruption, making such disclosures a protected form of speech under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Court stressed that public officials have both the right and duty to report corruption based on reasonable belief and are expected to verify the accuracy of their information as much as possible, without having to confirm its authenticity at the time of reporting. The state is urged to provide adequate channels to facilitate reporting and ensure the protection of whistleblowers, including safeguarding their identity and personal integrity.

Finally, the Court assessed the repercussions of penalizing individuals for exercising their freedom of expression in reporting suspected corruption. It recognized that allegations of corruption involving public officials hold significant public interest and affect human rights, warranting special protection under Article 13 of the Convention. The Court stressed the importance of providing adequate channels for reporting corruption, underscoring the need to facilitate these disclosures and protect those who come forward.

For further information, please see:

Caso Viteri Ungaretti y Otros vs. Ecuador—2022  

Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos Caso Viteri Ungaretti Y Otros Vs. Ecuador—27 Nov. 2023

Diplomat Flees To Market Town—26 Nov. 2022

IACHR refers case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court—16 July 2021






ECHR Rules That Portuguese Defamation Judgement Violated Right to Freedom of Expression

By: Firdevs Okatan

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On March 19, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in the case of Almeida Arroja v. Portugal, raising important questions about the balance between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of individual reputation.

An aerial view of the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France. | Photo Courtesy of European Court of Human Rights.

The case revolves around the conviction of José Pedro Almeida Arroja, an economist and university professor, for his comments on a private TV channel about a law firm and its director, P.R., a known politician and member of the European Parliament.

The background of the case lies in a dispute over the construction of a pediatric wing at São João Hospital in Porto. Almeida Arroja, chair of an association supporting the construction, criticized the legal advice provided by the law firm C., directed by P.R., accusing it of politically motivated interference. The domestic courts in Portugal found Almeida Arroja guilty of aggravated defamation and causing offense to a legal person, leading to his appeal to the ECHR.

The ECHR judgment focused on whether Almeida Arroja’s freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was unjustly violated. The Court acknowledged the importance of protecting reputation but emphasized that restrictions on freedom of expression must be carefully weighed, especially when public figures and matters of public interest are involved.

The Court observed that Almeida Arroja’s comments, although potentially harmful to P.R. and the law firm’s reputation, were part of a debate of significant public interest. The Court also considered P.R.’s status as a public figure, which requires a higher tolerance for criticism. Crucially, it found that the Portuguese courts had not balanced these factors correctly and that the penalties imposed had a disproportionate “chilling effect” on free speech.

The ruling has highlighted the complex relationship between the right to free expression and the need to protect individuals’ and legal entities’ reputations. It underscores the ECHR’s approach that public discussion, especially on matters of public concern, should be solid and that public figures like politicians must tolerate more scrutiny and potentially damaging statements.

This judgment does not only impact Portuguese law but resonates across Europe, where similar tensions exist between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation. It serves as a reminder of the delicate and nuanced judgments required in upholding fundamental human rights in a democratic society.

For further information, please see:

ECHR – Case of Almeida Arroja V. Portugal – 19 Mar. 2024

ECHR – Judgment concerning Portugal – 19 Mar. 2024

ECHRCaseLaw –  The size of the criminal conviction against the defendant for defamation of a lawyer and law firm for his comments on a television show was disproportionate. Violation of freedom of expression – 22 Mar. 2024

European Convention on Human Rights – 1950





ECHR Halts Deportation of Iraqi Family Fleeing ISIS, Citing Human Rights Violations

By: Rabiya Shamim

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On 6 February 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a landmark ruling in J.A. and A.A. v Turkey regarding the rights of asylum seekers. The case involves a family seeking asylum in Turkey, fearing persecution and violence if returned to their home country of Iraq.

Convening of the European Court of Human Rights. | Photo courtesy of Bianet.

The applicants, an Iraqi husband and wife with four children, voiced serious concerns over the security situation in Iraq, especially considering that they fled due to ongoing armed conflict, terrorism, and sectarian strife. In support of their claim for international protection, the family highlighted the presence of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the targeted brutality against civilians, especially those perceived to have collaborated with Iraqi security forces.

The ECHR emphasized Article 2 of the Convention, which protects the right to life, as one of the fundamental provisions. Similarly, Article 3 embodies a fundamental principle of the democratic societies forming the Council of Europe. Central to the ECHR’s ruling was the applicant’s claim that their expulsion to Iraq would breach their fundamental rights outlined in Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention, which safeguards the right to life and freedom from torture and inhuman treatment. The Court stressed that these protections are absolute, particularly when people are at genuine risk of persecution or violence upon return to their home country.

The ECHR reviewed the evidence presented by both applicants, and Turkish authorities, acknowledging the complexity of asylum petitions and the difficulties faced by people in substantiating their fears within a short timeframe. The ruling emphasized that states must thoroughly evaluate asylum petitions, particularly in cases where there is a risk of persecution or violence.

Despite the applicants’ diligent efforts to establish the imminent danger they would face in Iraq, the Court found shortcomings in the domestic authorities’ evaluation of their claims. While the Turkish Constitutional Court initially acknowledged the credible basis of the applicants’ fears, subsequent decisions failed to sufficiently address the consequences of the situation in Iraq, especially in the Ninewa region.

The ECHR’s decision reaffirmed the idea that the right to life includes not only protection from immediate harm but also the obligations of states to prevent foreseeable risks to individuals within their jurisdiction. The Court underscored the need to promptly address the plausible threat to the applicants’ safety by granting an interim measure that will prohibit their expulsion until further evaluation.

The ECHR concluded that the applicants’ rights under Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention would be violated if they were deported to Iraq without first undergoing a thorough reassessment of the risks they face. The ruling emphasizes the critical role of international human rights law in safeguarding security and dignity, especially in times of conflict and persecution. 

For further information, please see:

Bianet – ECtHR: Deportation of Iraqi Family fleeing ISIS constitutes violation of right to life – 8 Feb. 2024

Council of Europe – European Convention on Human Rights – 1950

ECHR – CASE OF J.A. AND A.A. v. TÜRKİYE- 09 Jan 2024

Syriac Press – European Court halts deportation of Iraqi family fleeing ISIS citing human rights violations – 9 Feb. 2024



ECHR Rules Russia Violated Journalists’ Rights to Life and Freedom of Expression

By: Firdevs Okatan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 30, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia breached fundamental rights of journalists Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev and Khadzhimurad Kamalov, whose murders in Dagestan, Russia highlighted critical systemic failures and underscored the ongoing risks to press freedom.

Media coverage of of the death of journalists Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev and Khadzhimurad Kamalov | Photo Courtesy of Anadolu Ajansi.

The case before the ECHR, which was brought by relatives Mutaelum Akhmednabiyev and Ali Akhmedovich Kamalov, sought justice for the journalists and highlighted systemic failures in the Russian judicial system. Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, Deputy Editor of Novoye Delo and Correspondent for Kavkazskiy Uzel, was included on a death threat leaflet in September 2009. On July 9, 2013, he was assassinated near his home in Semender, Russia. Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder and editor of the Dagestan newspaper Chernovik was named also in the leaflet that targeted journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers. Kamalov was murdered in Makhachkala, Russia on December 15, 2011.

In December 2011, Russian authorities initiated criminal investigations into the murders. The investigations sought to uncover the motives behind these crimes, which was seemingly linked to the journalists’ professional activities and their criticisms of local authorities. Akhmednabiyev and Kamalov’s families experienced numerous challenges throughout the legal process, including perceived inadequacies in the investigations’ thoroughness and pace, leading to claims of procedural violations. The investigations were marked by delays, suspensions, and allegations of ineffectiveness, raising serious concerns about the commitment to fully uncover the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The ECHR found Russia violated of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life) in both procedural and substantive aspects of Akhmednabiyev’s case, and only in the procedural aspect of Kamalov’s case. The Court underscored the lack of effective investigation by Russian authorities and the failure to provide adequate protection to the journalists, despite known threats to their lives.

The Court ordered Russia to pay EUR 26,000 to Akhmednabiyev’s family and EUR 20,000 to Kamalov’s, acknowledging the resulting non-pecuniary damage suffered from the state’s failure to protect their rights.

For further information, please see:

Caucasian Knot – ECtHR’s decision in case of Dagestani journalist Akhmednabiev becomes moral victory– 01 Feb. 2024

Committee To Protect Journalists – Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev Killed – 09 Jul. 2013

ECHR – Case of Akhmednabiyev and Kamalov V. Russia – 30 Jan.  2024

European Convention on Human Rights – 1950



ECHR Holds French Criminal Defamation Conviction of Workplace Harassment Plaintiff Violates Freedom of Expression

By: Molly Osinoff

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 18, 2024 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a plaintiff’s criminal conviction of defamation following her pursuit of a workplace harassment lawsuit constituted an Article 10 violation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

France’s Prime Minister for Labour, Full Employment and Inclusion, on the left, and ILO Director-General on the right | Photo Courtesy of the International Labour Organization.

Earlier this month, the ECHR issued a ruling in the case of Allée v. France. The plaintiff was a French national living in France who was employed at an education association. In 2015, the plaintiff requested a transfer to another position due to harassment by the association’s executive vice-chair. A year later, the plaintiff’s husband wrote to the managing director, accusing the executive vice-chair of harassing and sexually assaulting his wife. The managing director advised the applicant to take sick leave until her contract could be terminated or she could find a new position.

The plaintiff sent an email titled “Sexual Assault, Sexual and Mental Harassment” to the association’s managing director. She then forwarded it to her husband, the State Labor inspector, the executive vice-chair, and her son, who was the association’s spiritual director. The plaintiff’s husband subsequently posted a message to Facebook to amplify his wife’s allegations, calling the situation a “sex scandal.” The message included the name of the executive vice-chair’s family and the name of the association. Later, the executive vice-chair brought claims against the plaintiff and her husband alleging public defamation.

The Paris Criminal Court found the plaintiff and her husband guilty of public defamation of a private individual, and the Paris Court of Appeals upheld the judgment. In the case brought to the ECHR, the plaintiff argued that her criminal conviction of defamation violated the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression.

The ECHR held in the plaintiff’s favor, explaining that the plaintiff’s defamation conviction could have a chilling effect, ultimately discouraging people, and women specifically, from reporting experiences of workplace sexual harassment or assault. It concluded that the restriction on the plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression was disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, and that the plaintiff had suffered a violation of Article 10.

This case is not the only headway made in workplace combating harassment in France. On April 13, 2023, France officially ratified the International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention’s 2019 standards (C190) for preventing and responding to workplace violence and harassment. France was the 27th country in the world, and the 5th in the European Union, to ratify C190. The Minister of Labor at the time said that “the world of work must not be a source of anxiety or insecurity for women.” The Convention affirms the right to a workplace free from violence and harassment and provides the first globally agreed upon definition of violence and harassment at work, including gender-based violence. While France was a driving force behind the Convention, it did not ratify C190 until four years after the convention.

For further information, please see:

ECHR – The Applicant’s Criminal Conviction for Public Defamation Following Claims of Mental and Sexual Harassment Breached Article 10 of the Convention – 18 Jan. 2024.

Human Rights Watch – France Ratifies Treaty to End Violence and Harassment at Work – 20 Apr. 2023.

International Labour Organization – France Ratifies Convention C190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work – 13 Apr. 2023.