RT Bank Accounts Threatened with Closure in Britain

Update: 01 Feb 2017 Resolved
Year 19 Oct 2016 Country United Kingdom Category Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom Source of threat Non-state Partner Article 19 , EFJ/IFJ , Index Alert level Level 2
19 Oct 2016 United Kingdom Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom Non-state Article 19 , EFJ/IFJ , Index Level 2

On 17 October 2016, RT UK, a news channel that forms part of the global RT TV news network based in Moscow, published a letter received from British bank NatWest stating that its accounts would be closed following of a “review of banking arrangements”. No explanation was given as to how this conclusion was reached. The letter went on to say that the decision was “final” and that NatWest was “not prepared to enter into any discussion in relation to it.” While such action would not stop RT broadcasting in the UK, it could make it more difficult to run a London bureau, employ staff in Britain and cover events there. RT have accused the British government of being behind NatWest’s actions. RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said “It’s completely obvious that this is a political decision and a result of the wild pressure on RT in Europe and Britain recently.” The UK Treasury, in response, denied any involvement with the decision. The bank has since said it would review the situation but has declined to provide justification for the initial decision.

Resolved On 30 January 2016, NatWest announced that it had reached a resolution with RT, reversing its previous decision to close the UK bank account of the Russian TV channel. A spokesman for RBS Group, the bank’s parent company, stated: “When issues arise, we will always try to work with our customers to seek the best possible outcome, and are pleased we have been able to do so in this case.” On 1 February 2017, the partner organisations of the Platform declared this case to be "resolved”, concluding it was no longer an active threat to media freedom. Article published on the Guardian: "NatWest reverses decision to close RT's bank accounts in UK"

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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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