The Association of Investigative Reporters and Editorial Security of Moldova and Sanduța v. the Republic of Moldova (European Court of Human Rights)

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 255
October 2021

The Association of Investigative Reporters and Editorial Security of Moldova and Sanduța v. the Republic of Moldova – 4358/19

Judgment 12.10.2021 [Section II]

Article 10
Article 10-1
Freedom of expression

No compensation awarded by domestic court despite acknowledgment in substance of an Article 10 breach on account of defamation liability: violation

Facts – The applicants, a non-governmental organisation and journalist, published an article relating to the alleged financing of one of the main political parties by an offshore company with Russian ties, ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The party brought successful civil defamation proceedings against them and the judgment was upheld on appeal in April 2018.

After the communication of the present application to the Moldovan Government, the Government Agent lodged an application with the Court of Appeal to review its judgment. The Court of Appeal quashed its judgment of April 2018 but rejected the Agent’s request to expressly find a violation. It examined the appeal anew, quashing the first-instance judgment and dismissing the defamation action as ill-founded.

The applicants complained that their being held liable for defamation had breached their right to freedom of expression under Article 10.

Law – Article 10

(a) Admissibility – The Government had submitted that the Court of Appeal had acknowledged a breach of the applicants’ rights under Article 10 and then dismissed the defamation action against them. The Court interpreted the Government’s argument as relating to an objection to admissibility based on loss of victim status.

It was true that the Court of Appeal had upheld the Government Agent’s request for review and had quashed the relevant judgment. After the re-examination of the case, the plaintiff’s defamation action against the applicants had been dismissed. While the Court of Appeal had refused to expressly acknowledge a breach of Article 10, the Court was prepared to assume for the purposes of the present case that the overall outcome of the revision proceedings and of the subsequently reopened proceedings on the merits had amounted to an acknowledgement of that breach in substance. However, neither the Court of Appeal nor the Government had awarded any compensation to the applicants. The Court did not consider that the quashing of the judgment of 18 April 2018 and the dismissal of the defamation action constituted in themselves sufficient redress in the present case. The Government’s objection therefore had to be rejected.

(b) Merits – As seen, the Court was prepared to accept that the overall outcome of the proceedings had amounted in substance to an acknowledgement of a breach of Article 10. In view of its own case-law, and noting that the domestic courts in the initial proceedings had not conducted a proper balancing exercise, the Court saw no reason to depart from the above conclusion and did not consider it necessary to re-examine the merits of the complaint.

Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

Article 41: EUR 2,300 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

(See Also A.O. Falun Dafa and Others v. The Republic of Moldova, 29458/15, 29 June 2021)

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