CPT's Page on Foreign Libel, Slander and Defamation Cases

Hague consequences: 17 recent foreign defamation stories

One of the frustrating issues in working on the Hague Convention on Jurisdiction is the astonishing low level of concern among newspaper and press organizations over the impact of the Convention on laws involving speech. Apparently assuming that the Hague Convention's Public Policy exception and the US first amendment will make any an all global laws irrelevant to US citizens, there has been zero engagement by the press on this treaty, as a stakeholder. And by that, I mean zero. Not one press organization or corporate content provider has registered any concern about the Convention on speech related issues. The only ones that have raised concerns been been the ISPs, because they correctly understand that they will be the ones sued, and that since they have foreign assets and peering connections, they will find it difficult to hide behind the US 1st Amendment.

The following are 17 recent stories regarding foreign defamation cases, in a variety of countries with different legal traditions. Note that under the Hague Convention framework, there is no attempt to address differences in substantive law, and that in several negotiations this year, the Hague delegates refused to move speech related litigation into the treaty's non-mandatory "grey" area for enforcement, or to provide for a policy statement on speech that followed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (the Europeans objected to this).


[1] http://www.timesofindia.com/130501/13nbrs12.htm

Chinese police arrest dissident from hospital

In another case reported Saturday, the family of dissident Wang Jinbo said he had been arrested for "defaming" police on the Internet.

Wang, 29, was detained in Junan town in eastern China's Shandong province, his father Wang Xiuyu told AFP.

He said he was told his son was detained for 15 days for having defamed local police on the Internet. Police threatened Wang Xiuyu with arrest when he asked them for details of charges against his son.

[2] http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_313430.html

2 June 2001

Italian accused of creating blasphemous website

An Italian web designer has been accused of launching a blasphemous website featuring photomontages of the Pope with naked girls.

The 25-year-old from Latina, near Rome, has been charged with defaming religion.

Police say the site attracted hundreds of visitors a day.

All relevant material and books have now been seized, reports the Il Nuovo paper.

[3] http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/010602/2001060232.html

All NGO's unjustly tarred with the same brush
Egypt, Politics, 6/2/2001

The seven-year jail sentence against Egyptian-US academic Saad Eddin Ibrahim ignited a fresh bout of debate over the future of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Egypt, an Egyptian report said.

The issue of foreign finance will remain inconclusive as long as the government is unable to produce a viable alternative to Law No.153/1999, whose constitutionality was challenged.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, whose ordeal won him the title of democracy activist, was sentenced to seven years in jail after the State Security Court found him guilty of defaming Egypt in his rights reports. He was also charged with damaging state interests by spreading "false reports" alleging electoral fraud and religious persecution.

The court found the 62-year-old sociology professor guilty of receiving funds illegally from the European Commission to monitor parliamentary elections and offering bribes to forge official documents. Up to 20 employees in the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Social Development Studies, a Cairo-based group run by Ibrahim, received sentences ranging between one and five years.


[4] http://allafrica.com/stories/200106040336.html

Former Government Minister Yerodia Abdoulaye Brings a Second Journalist Before the Court
Journaliste En Danger

June 4, 2001
Posted to the web June 4, 2001

Congo Kinshasa

Andre Kisangani, a journalist with the daily "La Reference Plus", has been summoned to appear on 5 June 2001 before the Court of Kinshasa/Pont Kasa-Vubu by the former education minister, Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi. In a summons dated 23 May, the former minister accuses Kisangani and the newspaper "La Reference Plus" of defamation and asks the court to sentence the journalist to "the strongest penalty provided for by the law" and to impose a fine of US$ 32,000 on his newspaper for damages.

On 3 May, "La Reference Plus" published an article by Kisangani entitled "By publishing the day of the delivery and resumption of a controversial decree, Yerodia smeared and dishonoured at the Education Ministry". In this article, the journalist accused the minister of having removed a team of advisors from his outgoing cabinet, among which there were fictitious advisors, with "his eye on the severance payments". In the same article, the journalist wrote that Minister Yerodia "was preparing to deliver 185 public schools to a religious organisation whose only members are tribal brothers."

This is the second summons from the former education minister since he was dismissed from the government. The first case pits the minister against the bi-weekly "Numerica".


[5] http://allafrica.com/stories/200106060038.html

Wapa Threatens to Sue Wasieba
New Vision (Kampala, Uganda)

June 6, 2001
Posted to the web June 6, 2001

Okello Jabweli

The National Political Commissar, James Wapakhabulo, has threatened to sue Bubulo West MP Wanjusi Wasieba for defamation. Wapakhabulo, also the Mbale Municipality MP, denied playing any role in the nullification this week of Wasieba's nomination by the Electoral Commission. "I don't know why his nomination was nullified. I don't even know why UNEB refused to certify his papers. I have not been in touch with either the Electoral Commission or UNEB over his papers," Wapakhabulo told The New Vision by telephone.

The New Vision yesterday quoted Wasieba as having said that some politicians, including Wapakhabulo, were behind the nullification of his nomination. Wasieba said on Monday that the Government had given him armed escorts following threats on his life by Mbale-based politicians. Wapakhabulo, who described Wasieba's allegations as grave said, "If what has been reported is true, then I will have no option but to consult my lawyers to sue him for defamation."

He said Wasieba's decision to request for armed guards after making the allegations against him was intended to portray him as a killer. Wapakhabulo described his campaign as "tough but enjoyable.

[6] http://allafrica.com/stories/200106060119.html

Report On WPFC's Press Freedom Mission to Zimbabwe World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
June 6, 2001

The five members of our delegation accompanied Nyarota to Harare Central Police Station later in the day of our meeting with Moyo. For the second time in a month, Nyarota had been charged with criminal defamation over Daily News reports about a law suit filed in New York against President Mugabe by Evelyn Masaiti, the opposition member of parliament for a rural constituency, and three relatives of victims of violence surrounding elections in June 2000.

The Daily News and The Standard reported that the four sued Mugabe in the USA for damages suffered; the Mugabe government has in turn sued the newspaper for defamation, claiming the newspapers had published "persistent false and malicious reports."

[7] http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?f=/stories/20010609/587477.htm

EXCLUSIVE: 'Buck has to stop with leadership,' Ablonczy says Alliance at 9% support: Day has not earned trust of colleagues, constituents: MP
Sheldon Alberts


Eight Canadian Alliance MPs have been suspended from the party's caucus for demanding Mr. Day's resignation last month. Deborah Grey, the first Reform MP elected to Parliament, has also urged the leader to "graciously step aside."

A group supporting the leader, Grassroots For Day, yesterday filed a statement of claim in a Calgary court for a $475,000 defamation lawsuit against Ms. Grey for alleging during a television interview this week that the group had sent an e-mail threat to Chuck Strahl's family. Mr. Strahl is one of the eight MPs who has been suspended.

"In its entirety the statement is inflammatory, insulting, degrading and unacceptable and serves no purpose other than to besmirch the Plaintiffs' reputations," said the statement filed by lawyers for George Bears, the group's national director.

"She made this defamation on public television and I would simply make the request that she make the apology on television," Mr. Bears said in an interview yesterday.

[8] http://www.theage.com.au/business/2001/06/05/FFXAYMRTJNC.html

Strictly Private
Tuesday 5 June 2001

BHP chief sues 'The Australian' for defamation

Looking to put a bit more fruit on the sideboard before he leaves these shores, BHP chief Paul Milton Anderson has lobbed a defamation writ in the lap of Nationwide News Pty Ltd.

Anderson claims he was seriously defamed in The Australian last month in a piece headed "When bullies talk, it's time to walk".

In a statement of claim over the signatures of learned friends Jeffrey Sher, QC, and Michael Wheelahan, Anderson said his character and reputation had been injured and that he had suffered loss and damage.

He wants aggravated and exemplary damages.

The claim stated that the piece was understood to mean that:

The main reason Anderson promoted and supported the BHP and Billiton plc merger was for the ulterior purpose of enabling him and his wife to return to live in the United States earlier than otherwise would have been the case.

Anderson had breached his duties to BHP and its shareholders by supporting the merger for the ultimate purpose of appeasing his wife and to enable them to return to America.


[9] http://www.vancouverprovince.com/cgi-bin/newsite.pl?adcode=p-nw&modulename=national%20news&template=national&nkey=vp&filetype=fullstory&file=/cpfs/national/010602/n060210.html

N.B. editorial cartoonist wins appeal of libel award to Holocaust denier
Last updated: Saturday 9 June 2001 NATIONAL NEWS

FREDERICTON (CP) - New Brunswick Appeal Court has overturned a libel award against an editorial cartoonist accused of defaming a former teacher who believes the Holocaust was exaggerated.

Josh Beutel was ordered two years ago to pay $7,500 in damages to Malcolm Ross, who was barred from the classroom in 1991 after a human rights inquiry found that his anti-Jewish writings created a poisonous atmosphere.


[10] http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=CF4C7809-560B-11D5-841900508BF9712A&Title=Leftist%20Militants%20Attack%20Mexico%20City%20Assemblyman

Leftist Militants Attack Mexico City Assemblyman Greg Flakus
Mexico City
1 Jun 2001 02:38 UTC


But tensions between the two parties have been growing in recent days as PAN assembly members press forward the investigation of the Robles term and allegations that first surfaced in the Reforma newspaper. PAN officials have also accused current Mayor Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, also of the PRD, of covering up for Ms. Robles.

Meanwhile, the former mayor has brought a criminal defamation suit against the journalist who wrote the initial report questioning her use of funds during her 1999-2000 administration. Reforma editors say the information they printed is valid and they have backed the reporter.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists was among international groups condemning Ms. Robles' action against the reporter and the newspaper.

The more recent accusation against Rosario Robles is that, when she was still mayor last year, she paid more than 55 million pesos, about $6 million, from public funds to a public relations company for broadcast political advertising. A former employee of that company claims part of the money was to be used to finance a future campaign for the presidency by Ms. Robles. She had been considered a prime candidate for the 2006 presidential election, but analysts say her political future could be cut short if she is not quickly cleared of these charges.

[11] http://allafrica.com/stories/200105290119.html

Journalist, Printer And Four News Vendors Detained
ExpoTimes (Freetown)
May 29, 2001

The editor-in-chief of the Malawian daily, The Dispatch, Martines Namingha, printer, Kaleraa Mhango, and four newspaper vendors were over the weekend detained for publishing "false information".

In a protest letter addressed to the Minister of Home Affairs, Monjeza Maluza, the Paris-based Reporters sans frontières (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has asked the minister to order the competent authorities to release them. Robert Ménard, General Secretary of the press freedom organisation, reminded him that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Abid Hussein, recommended in a document published in January 2000: "In the case of offences such as 'libeling', 'insulting' or defaming' the head of State and publishing or broadcasting 'false' or 'alarmist' information, prison terms are both reprehensible and out of proportion to the harm suffered by the victim".

According to information collected by RSF, on 25 May 2001, Martines Namingha was arrested for having published an article headed "What will happen if Muluzi dies today?" and in which he addressed the question of the succession of the current president. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), the printer, Kalera Mhango, has been arrested for facilitating the publication. Four sellers have also been arrested.

[12] http://www.abc.net.au/news/politics/2001/05/item20010529165743_1.htm

AMA president to sue Minister over 'qualifications' jibe
May 30, 2001

The president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Kerryn Phelps, will sue the Federal Health Minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge, for defamation.

Dr Wooldridge responded to criticism of Government policy from the AMA last week, by saying Dr Phelps had no specialist qualification other than in the media.

Dr Phelps, a specialist general practitioner, says she has legal advice that she can sue, and win.

She says her preference was not to take legal action, but the Minister had refused to apologise, despite having every opportunity to do so.

[13] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1356000/1356140.stm

Monday, 28 May, 2001, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Algerian press freedom protest

About 3,000 human rights activists and opposition supporters have joined journalists in a street demonstrations in Algiers against a new proposed law which they believe will destroy press freedom.

More than 20 independent newspapers in Algeria cancelled their Monday editions to protest against the proposed law.

It would provide for sharply increased penalties for defaming Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, including prison sentences of up to a year and fines of $3,500.

The bill, which was passed by the lower house of the Algerian parliament three weeks ago, still has to be approved by the upper house.

[14] http://allafrica.com/stories/200105290330.html

Two Journalists Released Amidst Renewed Crackdown On Press
Writers in Prison Committee
May 28, 2001
Posted to the web May 29, 2001

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN welcomes the release from prison of Garoma Bekele and Tesfaye Deressa but is dismayed at the continued detention of Solomon Nemera, and the arrests of fellow journalists Daniel Gezzahegne, Kidus Habt Belachew and Eyobe Demeke.

On 10 May 2001, charges of terrorism against Garoma Bekele, Tesfaye Deressa and Solomon Nemera were dropped for lack of evidence. The three, who all worked for the now defunct magazine Urjii, had previously been handed down prison sentences on charges relating to the press law. Reporters Bekele and Deressa were released the same day but Nemera was told that he would have to raise 10,000 Birr (approx. US$1,210) bail because as editor-in-chief of Urjii, he had greater responsibility for the alleged press law violation. Unable to raise the money, he remains in detention. He is reported to be facing a further, as yet unknown, charge.

Bekele, Deressa and Nemera were all arrested in October 1997 following coverage in Urjii of the involvement of government troops in the killing of three alleged members of the Oromo Liberation Front. The journalists were imprisoned for more than two years while waiting for their case to come to trial. When it did, they were all given one-year prison sentences for "publishing false information". They would normally have been released immediately on account of the time they had already spent in prison but they remained in custody due to the charges of terrorism brought against them.

Meanwhile, on 4 May 2001, Daniel Gezzahegne was detained when he was unable to raise the 5000 Birr (US$605) bail set by the court trying his case. The deputy editor of the Amharic weekly Moged faces criminal defamation charges based on an article published in the newspaper Gemenna. The piece cited alleged corrupt practices amongst the religious authorities in Gonder province.

Gezzahegne was editor of Gemenna at the time of publication. His trial is due to begin in October this year.

Kidus Habt Belachew, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Mebrek, was obliged to make a statement to the Central Investigation Department (CID) on 10 May 2001 concerning his newspaper's coverage of demands made by students in Addis Ababa. Belachew was released on payment of a 10,000 Birr bail.

Eyobe Demeke, managing editor of the weekly Tarik, is also reported to have been detained in early May 2001 on charges connected with an article he published in 1996. He was charged at the time of the publication but freed on bail up until his recent arrest.

Whilst relieved that Garoma Bekele and Tesfaye Deressa have at last been released, International PEN is gravely concerned at the latest wave of detentions of journalists in Ethiopia. It calls on the Ethiopian authorities to end the practice of using press laws as a tool to curb free speech, and urges the Ethiopian government to take steps to decriminalise defamation, making it a matter for the civil courts. International PEN appeals for the release of all journalists held in Ethiopian prisons.


[15] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A82847-2001May26.html

Curbs on Free Speech Quell Debate in Egypt
By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 27, 2001; Page A22

CAIRO -- Feminist author Nawal Saadawi worries for her life. She has been declared an apostate by Egypt's top religious officials, an offense punishable by death under the tenants of Islam.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian American sociologist and democracy activist, sits in jail under a seven-year sentence for defaming the state.


[16] http://allafrica.com/stories/200105240281.html

M&G and ANC Slug it Out in the High Court
Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg)
May 24, 2001
Posted to the web May 24, 2001

The Mail &Guardian and the ANC faced each other in court this week over the allegation that a white editor wrote an article and put a black journalist's name above it, Khadija Magardie reports

The Johannesburg High Court looks miles away from a resolution of the dispute between the Mail & Guardian and the country's ruling party.

The newspaper's former editor, Phillip van Niekerk, and former M&G journalist Lizeka Mda are suing a senior member of the African National Congress, and the party for defamation. This was after Van Niekerk was accused of being a dishonest racist who penned an allegedly nefarious article under Mda's byline.

In what could possibly set a legal precedent, the court is being asked to broaden the law of defamation, which only makes monetary awards, to include, as part of relief sought, a declaratory order for a retraction and a formal, written apology. The two journalists are not seeking any financial award from the court.


[17] http://allafrica.com/stories/200105240206.html

A Christian Perspective On Press Freedom
Financial Gazette (Harare)
May 24, 2001
Posted to the web May 24, 2001
Tim Neill

The charging of the editor-in-chief of the Daily News with criminal defamation is fundamentally an assault on Press freedom. It is in the same category as the bombing of the printing press of the Daily News, the forceful closing of Capital Radio, the torturing of journalists and the like.


Questions, comments and suggestions to Vergil Bushnell vbushnell@cptech.org

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