Full case report

Karman v Russia

Reference Application No. 29372/02; (2009) 48 EHRR 21
Court European Court of Human Rights

Judge Lorenzen (President), Botoucharova, Jungwiert, Maruste, Kovler, Borrego Borrego & Jaeger JJ

Date of Judgment 14 Dec 2006


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Article 10 ECHR – Politicians – Value judgments – Whether interference with Article 10 necessary in a democratic society


Facts

K, a newspaper editor, published an article describing the organiser of a rally of the Russian National Unity movement, T, as a “local neofascist.” T, also a newspaper editor, brought defamation proceedings which were ultimately successful on the basis that K had failed to demonstrate that T was a member of a neo-fascist party. Criminal proceedings had been brought against T for incitement to racial hatred, but had been discontinued. K and his newspaper paid damages to T. K complained of a violation of his article 10 and 6 rights.


Issue

Whether the judgments against K, which were admitted to be an interference with his right to freedom of expression, were ‘necessary in a democratic society’.


Held

Finding a violation of art.10;

T had actively participated in political life and so was required to have a higher degree of tolerance to criticism. K’s words were political speech, restrictions on which required very strong reasons. They were also a value-judgment rather than a statement of fact. K had offered evidence of the extremist nature of T’s newspaper to support his claims, but the courts had considered only the evidence produced for the discontinued criminal charge. K’s words did not exceed the acceptable limits of criticism and so the interference with his rights was not necessary in a democratic society. Given the linked nature of the complaints, it was not necessary to consider the art.6 complaint.


Comment

Russian defamation law at the time drew no distinction between value-judgments and statements of fact, requiring proof of any statement. Such a requirement was always susceptible to adverse findings by the ECHR, particularly when, as in this case, the domestic courts ignored the evidence put forward by the applicant to support his words.


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