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Secretary General: Governments must protect essential role of journalists in democracy, especially in times of crisis

World Press Freedom Day - 3 May
Strasbourg 30 April 2020
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New report lists 142 serious attacks on journalists in 2019

 

In a statement issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić calls on governments to avoid unduly restricting media freedom during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Governments are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, but the situation must not be used to silence or hinder journalists,” said the Secretary General. “Media must be free to report on all aspects of the crisis. Journalists have a key role and a special responsibility for providing timely, accurate and reliable information to the public. They must be able to scrutinise the decisions of authorities in response to the pandemic. Through responsible reporting, journalists can also help prevent panic from spreading and highlight positive examples of solidarity in our societies. I have been personally impressed and encouraged by the many media reports I have seen of citizens helping each other and of carers, nurses and other ‘heroes’ on the frontline of this crisis.”

The Secretary General also expressed her concern at the findings of the annual report of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, compiled by 14 media freedom NGOs, highlighting a trend of violence and intimidation against journalists over the last year.

“Unfortunately, the worrying trend of violence and intimidation against journalists observed in recent years continues. Too many journalists are in prison and there are too many cases of impunity for the killing of journalists. I am also aware of the difficult economic situation that many journalists find themselves in today", she said.

The Secretary General encouraged member states to protect the role of journalists as “watchdogs” and as an important part of the necessary checks and balances in democratic societies. The 2020 annual report of the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, published yesterday by 14 international NGOs, lists 142 serious threats to journalists in the 47 Council of Europe member states. This includes 33 physical attacks against journalists, 17 new cases of detention and imprisonment, 43 cases of harassment and intimidation and two new cases of impunity for murder. The NGOs express concern over a total of 22 pending cases of impunity for the killing of journalists and state that at least 105 journalists were in prison by the end of 2019.


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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

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