European Court of Human Rights
6 February 2001

Facts

The applicant, Mr. Tammer, who was a journalist, published an interview with another journalist, Mr. R., who had helped to write memoirs of Ms. L. – a former employee of former Prime Minister, Mr. S. Ms. L. was also a mother of a child of Mr. S, who at the time when the child was born was still married to another woman. The care of the child was entrusted to the parents of Ms. L. In one of the questions Mr. Tammer called Ms. L. "a person breaking up another's marriage" and "an unfit and careless mother deserting her child". The applicant was convicted and fined ten times the daily income by the Estonian courts for insulting Ms. L. All his appeals were rejected.

Complaint

The applicant complained that the decisions of the Estonian courts in which he was found guilty of insult violated his freedom of expression.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that a fair balance had been struck between the freedom of expression of Mr. Tammer and the need to protect the reputation of Ms. L. Consequently the freedom of expression of Mr. Tammer had not been violated.

The Court firstly stated that the fine imposed on the applicant was prescribed by law and aimed at the protection of reputation and rights of Ms. L.

As regards the necessity of the interference, the Court noted that:

  • The impugned remarks related to the aspects of Ms. L’s private life which she described in her memoirs written in her private capacity.
  • Although she continued to be involved in a political party, the use of the impugned terms in relation to Ms. L.’s private life did not serve any public interest.
  • The applicant could have formulated his criticism of Ms. L’s actions without using such insulting expressions.
  • Thus the domestic courts had given sufficient reasons while balancing the conflicting interests.

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