Human Rights Defender “v.” Freedom of Expression

April 19, 2017

On 4 April 2017 the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment1 in the case of Milisavljević v. Serbia (application no. 50123/06) in which it unanimously held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. What makes the case particularly interesting is that it concerns Natasa Kandic a well-known human rights defender who has won several awards including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) in 1999. [see also : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/04/07/serbian-natasa-kandic-receives-first-civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-awar/] Nothing is simple when it comes to human rights……

A journalist, Ms Milisavljević, had published in September 2003 an article in Politika about Kandic in which this journalist quoted another journalist who said that Kandic had been called a witch and a prostitute. Natasha Kandic sued for libel and the Serbian courts held that by failing to put one particular sentence – “Ms Kandić [had] been called a witch and a prostitute” – in quotation marks the journalist had tacitly endorsed the words as her own.

The European Court found that it was evident, even without the quotation marks, that that sentence, written by another journalist and previously published in a different magazine, had not been Ms Milisavljević’s personal opinion of Ms Kandić, but that she had merely been transmitting how Ms Kandić was perceived by others. Moreover, the domestic courts, limiting their reasoning to the lack of quotation marks, had completely failed to balance Ms Kandić’s right to reputation against Ms Milisavljević’s freedom of expression and duty, as a journalist, to impart information of general interest.

 CASE OF MILISAVLJEVIĆ v. SERBIA – Application no. 50123/06)

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