Defamation / Reputation, Hate Speech, Political Expression
Awan v. Levant
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The plaintiff, a member of an opposition party in Ukraine, broke a ribbon with Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s name on it from a wreath during the Independence Day celebrations. She then ripped the ribbon in front of the gathered crowd. For these actions, the plaintiff was charged and found guilty of petty hooliganism and ordered to serve 10 days of administrative detention.
The plaintiff then brought the case to European Court of Human Rights, arguing that her rights to freedom of expression and privacy. The the Court ruled that although she committed petty hooliganism, her detention violated her free speech right.
On August 24, 2011, the plaintiff took part in the Ukrainian Independence Day celebrations. President Yanukovich also participated in the celebrations and laid a wreath at a monument of a Ukrainian pubic figure. The plaintiff approached the wreath and tore off a part of the ribbon that had President Yanukovich’s name on it. She did not damage the wreath in the process. She then proceeded to tear the ribbon in front of the gathered crowd. The reason for her actions was that she belonged to the opposition party and did not think President Yanukovich should have been president.
The next day, on August 25, 2011, the applicant was detained and brought to a police station where a report was drawn up explaining that her actions during the Independence celebration violated Article 173 of the Ukrainian Administrative code and amounted to petty hooliganism. The plaintiff was not allowed to consult her lawyer during this stage of the process.
On August 30, 2011, the Shevchenskiy District Court in Kyiv, at a hearing, found the plaintiff guilty of petty hooliganism and sentenced her to ten days of administrative detention. The court explained that its decision to apply detention was due to the plaintiff’s cynicism and unwillingness to admit guilt.
On September 21, 2011, the Kyiv City Court of Appeals upheld the verdict against the plaintiff. By that time, she already served her sentence.
The plaintiff thus brought the case to ECtHR, arguing that her actions are protected by Article 10 of ECHR. She also argued that the delay in her appeal, despite it being in line with the established administrative procedure, undermined her right to appeal because it took place already after she served her ten day sentence.
The ECtHR reiterated that Article 10 protects expression that might shock and offend. It also reiterated that the Article protects both the ideas and the form of the expression.
The court the explained that allowance for limitations of freedom of expression exist, but must be construed strictly. In assessing the proportionality of the limitations, the nature and severity of penalties are factors that are weighed by the ECtHR.
The court thus ruled that plaintiff’s actions amounted to political expression and her administrative detention was an interference with her right to freedom of expression.
The court, however, disagreed with the plaintiff that he actions did not amount to petty hooliganism. The court agreed that the plaintiff’s actions might have been construed as offensive and aimed to insult or disturb those present. That said, the court found the ten day detention to be unjustifiable, especially since it seems to have been levied due to the plaintiff’s attitude and unwillingness to admit guilt.
The court thus ruled that the plaintiff’s freedom of expression was violated, and thus was Article 10.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ruling upheld a form of political expression: tearing a ribbon with a name. However, it also ruled that such actions can be construed as petty hooliganism. It seems that the sole reason for the ruling for the plaintiff was that she spent ten days in administrate detention.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Ten day detention for political speech under charges of hooliganism constitute a violation of Article 10.
“Article 10 of the Convention protects not only the substance of the ideas and information expressed but also the form in which they are conveyed”
Freedom of expression is subject to exceptions, which must be construed strictly, and the need for any restrictions must be established convincingly.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Although the ruling allows for certain forms of expression to be called acts of petty hooliganism by national courts, the ECtHR is clear in that such actions should not be punishable by detention.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.