Freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereafter the ECHR), is one of the fundamental foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for the progress and development of every human being. States must not only refrain from interfering with this right but must also take measures to protect it effectively. Restrictions on the freedom of expression are provided for in paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the ECHR, which must be interpreted to the letter, and the need for any restrictions convincingly demonstrated. In particular, any intervention of a public authority in the right to expression must be provided for by law, be necessary for a democratic society and must pursue one of the purposes referred to in paragraph 2. The European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR) examines this intervention and decides whether it is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the grounds relied on by national authorities to justify it are pertinent and sufficient. Failure to satisfy these conditions results in a violation of Article 10.
On September 22, 2015, the decision of the ECtHR in the case of Koutsoliontos and Pantazis v. Greece (cases 54608/09 και 54590/09) was published, concluding that Greece had violated Article 10 of the ECHR (1, 2).
The applicants claimed that their civil conviction for libel and insult constituted an unjustified interference with the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
The case concerned the convictions of Mr Koutsoliontos and Mr Pantazis for malicious defamation and insult as a result of the publication of a press article which, according to the Greek courts, had breached a politician’s honour and reputation.
The ECtHR, underlining from the outset “the prominent role, that of the “guardian”, played by the press in a democratic society” and recalling that the limits of acceptable criticism of a politician, who is referred to in this capacity, are wider than those against a simple private individual, ruled among other things that in this specific case a) the national courts did not sufficiently take into account the criteria established by the Court’s jurisprudence for weighing the protection of the reputation of F.F. and the freedom of expression of the applicants, b) that the contested article contributed to a debate of public interest and the expressions used by the 2nd applicant in his article should not be considered gratuitous insults. In this particular case, therefore, the ECtHR concluded that the national authorities did not provide adequate and sufficient reasons to justify sentencing the applicants to pay compensation to F.F. and therefore there was a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR.
Respect for fundamental rights is one of the key components of a state that is governed by the rule of law. The fundamental rights that every citizen should enjoy are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is a primary and indisputable obligation of the state to respect these rights. In this case, however, the European Court of Human Rights found that the applicant’s right to the right to freedom of expression had been violated.
As the national authorities (in this particular case the national courts) did not give adequate and sufficient reasons to justify sentencing the applicants to pay compensation and that their sentencing did not correspond to a “compelling social need,” the ECtHR ruled that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR.
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