Text Box: 60th anniversary of the European Convention 
on Human Rights: World Press Freedom Day

60th anniversary of the European Convention

on Human Rights: World Press Freedom Day

The freedom of the press derives from the fundamental right to freedom of expression recognised in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  That right is also laid down in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

World Press Freedom Day celebrates the Declaration of Windhoek, of 3 May 1991, adopted following the UN and UNESCO Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, held in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.  According to UNESCO, the seminar "acted as a catalyst in the process of encouraging press freedom, independence and pluralism in Africa".

The European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers, although this does not prevent states from imposing a licensing system on broadcasting, cinema and television companies.

On the occasion of the Convention's 60th anniversary, the Council of Europe is, throughout the year 2010, emphasising the case-law of the Court and the contribution that the Court thus makes to protecting freedom of expression.

One of the most recent cases is that of Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan (No 40984/07, judgment of 22 April 2010 final since 4 October 2010).  Prison sentences were imposed on the applicant following two criminal prosecutions brought against him in 2007 for publishing two articles in a newspaper called Realnij Azerbaijan.  One was about events which occurred in the town of Khojaly during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh; while in the second, the journalist speculated about a possible war between the USA and Iran in which Azerbaijan might also get involved because of the support given by the Government of Azerbaijan to the United States. The Court took the view that Mr Fatullayev had been a victim of two violations of Article 10 (freedom of expression and information) and one violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial, and in particular,the presumption of innocence) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its judgment, the Court asked Azerbaijan to release the applicant immediately and to pay him 25 000 euros for non-pecuniary damage and 2 822 euros for his costs and expenses.  The rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Christoph Strässer, also associated himself with the call made by the Strasbourg Court for Mr Fatullayev to be released.

Another noteworthy judgment of the Court is that issued in the case of Tillack v. Belgium (No. 20477/05, judgment of 27 November 2007 final on 27 February 2008).  In 2002, Mr Tillack had published in the German weekly Stern two articles based on confidential documents of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).  Suspecting the applicant of bribing an official in order to obtain the information, OLAF opened an internal investigation to find out who had divulged the information. The official responsible for the leak was not identified by the investigation. On 19 March 2004, the applicant's home and office were searched; virtually all his working documents and tools were seized and placed under seal (16 boxes of documents, two boxes of files, two computers, four mobile telephones and a metal cabinet). The applicant argued before the European Court of Human Rights that the searches and seizures carried out in his home and office had violated his right to freedom of expression. In November 2007, the Court concluded in its judgment on the case that Article 10 of the Convention had been violated, as, at the time when the searches had taken place, it had been clear that their purpose was to reveal the source of the information reported by the applicant in his articles. The Court awarded the applicant 10 000 euros for non-pecuniary damage and 30 000 euros for his costs and expenses. The Court's decision emphasised that journalists' right not to reveal their sources could not be considered a mere privilege to be granted or taken away depending on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of those sources, but was part and parcel of the right to information, and had to be treated with the utmost caution.

Another case relating to press freedom on which the Court issued a ruling was that of Stoll v. Switzerland (application No. 69698/01, Grand Chamber judgment of 10 December 2007). The case related to the imposition on the applicant of a fine for having disclosed in the press a confidential report by the Swiss Ambassador to the United States. The document concerned the strategy adopted by the Swiss Government in the negotiations between the World Jewish Congress and Swiss banks about the compensation due to Holocaust victims for unclaimed assets deposited in Swiss bank accounts.  In 1999, the Zurich District Court sentenced the applicant to a fine of 800 francs (approximately 476 euros) for publishing "secret official deliberations".  He lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights, which, in its Chamber judgment of 25 April 2006, concluded that Article 10 of the Convention had been violated. At the Swiss Government's request, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber. Ultimately, the Court concluded, by 12 votes to 5, that there had been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention. The Court considered that, although the confidentiality of diplomatic reports could not be protected at any price, Mr Stoll’s publications were likely to cause considerable damage to the interests of the Swiss authorities. Furthermore, it found that the articles concerned were inaccurate and liable to mislead readers. Finally, the Court shared the opinion of the Swiss Government and Press Council, a private, independent body set up by the press, that the applicant’s chief intention had not been to inform the public about a subject of general interest, but to make the Ambassador’s report the subject of needless scandal.

For more details on these and other judgments concerning Article 10 and freedom of expression, please consult the Court's database HUDOC  (http://www.echr.coe.int/echr/en/hudoc). Specific Court related questions can be answered by the ECHR press service.


ECHR Press Office

Tel. 033 (0) 3 90 21 42 08

Email: [email protected]                                                                    Updated: April 2010