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ASIL: European Court of Human Rights Rules NGOs’ Defamation Case for Untrue Statements in a Private Letter Did Not Violate Freedom of Expression (June 27, 2017)

By: Caitlin Behles | June 29, 2017 - 1:10pm
On June 27, 2017, the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Medžlis Islamske Zajednice Br?ko and Others v. Bosnia and Herzegovina that there had been no violation of the right to freedom of expression in a finding of defamation against four NGOs for the publication of a letter containing untrue allegations about the entertainment editor of a public radio station. According to the press release, the NGOs had sent the letter to “the highest authorities of their district complaining about a person’s application for the post of director of Br?ko District’s multi-ethnic radio and television station” and it was later published in several newspapers. The Court determined that “the applicants had not established before the domestic courts the ‘truthfulness of these statements which they knew or ought to have known were false’ despite being bound by the requirement to verify the veracity of their allegations even if these had been disclosed to the authorities by means of private correspondence.” The Court therefore held “that the applicants had not had a sufficient factual basis to support their allegations and that the interference with their freedom of expression had been supported by relevant and sufficient reasons and had been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.” The Court further noted that the domestic court had struck a balance between protecting the reputation of the individual at issue and the applicants’ freedom of expression.