European Court of Human Rights
27 May 2004

Facts

The applicant, Vides Aizsardzības Klubs, was a non-governmental organization which adopted a resolution expressing its concerns about the conservation of coastal dunes. The resolution contained allegations that the Mayor of the coastal village Mērsrags had willfully “signed illegal documents, decisions and certificates”. The resolution was published in the regional newspaper. The Mayor sued the applicant organization for defamation. The court ruled that the applicant organization had not proved the truth of its statements and ordered it to publish an official apology and pay damages to the mayor for publishing defamatory allegations.

Complaint

The applicant organization complained that the court order had infringed its right to freedom of expression, and in particular it’s right to impart information.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that the punishment of the applicant organization violated its freedom of expression.

The Court noted that by publishing the resolution, the applicant had exercised its role of a “watchdog” with regard to the protection of environment. The Court firstly recognized that the order was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim - the protection of the reputation and rights of others. In the Court’s view, by calling the actions of the Mayor “illegal”, the applicant organization had expressed a personal legal opinion which shall be regarded as a value judgment. It could not therefore be required to prove the accuracy of that statement. Everyone had to be able to draw the public’s attention to situations in which actions of a public figure could be considered unlawful.

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