May 4, 2020
Since the coronavirus became a pandemic, governments around the
world have adopted a wide range of measures affecting basic human
rights. This includes many of the 47 member states of the Council
of Europe all of whom are legally bound by the European Convention
on Human Rights. Most states have limited the freedoms of assembly
and movement, some have also limited privacy and data protection
and then there are some who have restricted freedom of expression
through laws or policies banning false information.
To discuss the implications for freedom of expression is none other
than the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja
Mijatović, who previously served as the OSCE Representative on
Freedom of the Media.
In a statement on April 3rd, Dunja Mijatović wrote: “The global
health problems caused by COVID-19 require effective measures to
protect people’s health and lives. This includes combating
disinformation that may cause panic and social unrest. Regrettably
some governments are using this imperative as a pretext to
introduce disproportionate restrictions to press freedom; this
is a counterproductive approach that must stop. Particularly
in times of crisis, we need to protect our precious liberties and
In this conversation we discuss:
- The measures countries like Hungary, Romania, Russia and
Azerbaijan, that typically target false information, have taken
during the crisis.
- How bad the situation has become for free expression in Europe
because of corona-related restrictions.
- Which types of restrictions that are particularly worrying and
which countries that are of specific concern.
- If combating misinformation is vital during this crisis, why is
it a problem if states adopt exceptional measures? Article 10
paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows
governments to interfere with free expression for the purpose of
“public safety” and the “protection of health.”
- According to case law of the European Court of Human Rights,
the member states have a certain margin of appreciation when it
comes to finding the right balance between convention rights (free
speech) and competing interests (such as health and public safety).
On the one hand the threat from Covid-19 give states a wide margin
on appreciation, but on the other hand one could argue that access
to information and scrutiny and debate of emergency measures is
just as important.
- What types of measures that would be consistent with freedom of
expression. Would it be legitimate to ban or remove statements that
contradicted health advice by WHO or the national health
- Should journalists and media have more freedom than ordinary
citizens expressing themselves on social media, blogs and so
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