The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing Wednesday 31 August 2016 at 9.15 a.m. in the case of Medžlis Islamske Zajednice Brčko and Others v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (application no. 17224/11). The case concerns defamation proceedings brought against three NGOs and a religious community following a letter they had written to the highest authorities of their district to complain about the entertainment editor of a public radio station.
The applicants are a religious community, the Brčko Branch of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Medžlis Islamske zajednice Brčko), and three non-governmental organisations from the Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely the Bosniac Cultural Society “Preporod” (Bošnjačka zajednica kulture “Preporod”), the Bosniac Charity Association “Merhamet” (“Merhamet” Humanitarno udruženje građana Bošnjaka Brčko Distrikta) and the Council of Bosniac Intellectuals (Vijeće Kongresa Bošnjačkih intelektualaca Brčko Distrikta).
In May 2003 the applicants wrote a letter to the highest authorities of the Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina to complain about the alleged misconduct of an entertainment editor of their district’s multi-ethnic public radio station. They wrote that, according to information they had received, the entertainment editor had been involved in disparaging behaviour towards Bosniacs and Bosniac culture and that this disqualified her from being a candidate for the position of the radio station’s director. Soon after, the letter was published in three different daily newspapers. As a result, the entertainment editor brought civil defamation proceedings against the applicants. At first instance the claim was rejected: the court found that the applicants could not be held liable because they had not published the letter in the media. However, in July 2007 the appellate court, after having examined several witnesses, found the applicants liable for defamation due to the inaccuracy of factual statements they had made about the entertainment editor, which had been untrue and damaging to the latter’s reputation. The applicants were ordered to retract their statements and publish the judgment against them at their own expense. Having failed to do this, the entertainment editor brought enforcement proceedings and, in December 2007, the applicants paid 2.825 convertible marks (approximately € 1.445) for enforcement of the judgment of July 2007. The Constitutional Court upheld the appellate court’s judgment in May 2010.
Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants complain that the domestic courts’ decisions against them breached their right to freedom of expression. They maintain that their intention had not been to publish the letter, which had occurred without their knowledge, but to inform those in authority about certain irregularities in a matter of considerable public interest – the suitability of a candidate for the post of a multiethnic public radio station – and to prompt them to investigate their allegations.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 21 January 2011.
In its Chamber judgment of 13 October 2015 the Court held, by four votes to three, that there had been no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention. The Chamber found in particular that the national courts, which had heard witnesses in the defamation proceedings, had correctly concluded that the applicants had acted negligently in simply reporting the entertainment editor’s alleged misconduct without making a reasonable effort to verify its accuracy. The national courts had therefore struck a fair balance between the radio entertainment editor’s right to reputation (as a prospective candidate for a position as a public servant, namely the director of a public radio station) and the applicants’ right to report irregularities about the conduct of a public servant to the body competent to deal with such complaints.
On 14 March 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the applicants’ request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.
The following organisations were granted leave to intervene in the written proceedings as third parties: CREDOF (Centre de recherche et d’études sur les droits fondamentaux) and Blueprint for Free Speech.
Composition of the Court
The case will be heard by a Grand Chamber, composed as follows:
- András Sajó (Hungary), President,
- Işıl Karakaş (Turkey),
- Luis López Guerra (Spain),
- Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
- Angelika Nußberger (Germany),
- Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
- Nebojša Vučinić (Montenegro)
- Vincent A. de Gaetano (Malta),
- André Potocki (France),
- Paul Mahoney (the United Kingdom),
- Faris Vehabović (Bosnia and Herzegovina),
- Egidijus Kūris (Lithuania),
- Iulia Motoc (Romania),
- Jon Fridrik Kjølbro (Denmark),
- Mārtiņš Mits (Latvia),
- Stéphanie Mourou-Vikström (Monaco),
- Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria), judges,
- Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
- Helen Keller (Switzerland),
- Valeriu Griţco (Republic of Moldova), substitute judges,
- and also Søren Prebensen, Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar.
Representatives of the parties
- Monika Mijić, Agent,
- Sandra Malešić, Peđa Đurasović and Dragana Tešić, Advisers;
- Osman Mulahalilović, Counsel,
- Lejla Murselović, Ibrahim Šadić and Emir Fazlić, Advisers.
- Mr Sabahudin Ravkić, one of the applicants in the case, will also attend the hearing.
Press release ECHR 269 (2016) 31/08/2016