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Justice for man who was fined for writing an article

Grinberg v. Russia  | 2005

Justice for man who was fined for writing an article

The point is not the money, it’s the enforcement of the law that matters to me

Isaak Ginsberg, reported in "Arguments and Facts", 24th July 2014 - © Photo AIF

Background

Isaak Grinberg wrote an article for the Guberniya newspaper. It accused the Governor of the Ulyanovsk Region of “waging war” against the free press, and referred to the governor’s support for a colonel who had killed an 18-year-old girl. It concluded with the words, “no shame and no scruples!”

The governor sued Mr Grinberg for defamation, solely on the basis of the final words of the article, “no shame and no scruples!” He claimed that these words were insulting and could not be proved.

The governor won the case. Mr Grinberg was ordered to pay a fine.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The court noted that value judgments are impossible to prove. A legal requirement to prove the truth of a value judgment is an infringement of freedom of expression.

The words “no shame and no scruples!” were a classic example of a value judgment. Furthermore, the article had concerned a matter of public interest and its factual allegations had not been contested. Therefore, making Mr Grindberg liable for defamation because he had published these words had violated his right to free speech.

Follow-up

After the Strasbourg court agreed to review the case, the Supreme Court of Russia issued a decree seeking to apply Council of Europe rules on freedom of expression to Russian law. This highlighted the need for public officials to accept that they will be subject to public scrutiny and criticism. It also directed the courts to distinguish between statements of fact and value judgments when assessing claims for defamation.

Mr Grindberg was awarded €1,120 in compensation. 

The Committee of Ministers continues to monitor issues related to defamation and freedom of speech in Russia.