(Application no. 4637/02)
24 November 2009
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Ieremeiov v. Romania (No. 2),
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Luis López Guerra,
Ann Power, judges,
and Stanley Naismith, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 3 November 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
“Citizens' safety above State security
The Scandal of the files in Buziaş
The newly elected mayor, [A.V.I.], is suspected of having collaborated with the Securitate
The first scandal concerning the Securitate files is about to burst in the town of Buziaş. The elected mayor, [A.V.I.] is suspected by some citizens – whose names will not be made public for obvious reasons – of having collaborated with the Securitate. Based on information from inside the Romanian Secret Service, our sources said that [A.V.I.] was under surveillance until 1989 as an irredentist chauvinist, which made it impossible for him to obtain a history teaching post in Buziaş... During the same period [A.V.I.] was allegedly persuaded to collaborate with the Securitate, and a file allegedly exists on this matter...
Before the local elections, [A.V.I.] lodged a written statement with the Electoral Bureau... declaring that he had not been part of the former Securitate. He informed us yesterday that what he had written in that statement was true and that he had never collaborated in any way with the secret police before 1990.”
It further considered that a certain degree of aggressiveness was common in journalism and that therefore, although the facts met the legal criteria to constitute the criminal offence of insult, in the circumstances of the case the acts perpetrated and their consequences were not severe enough to come within the sphere of criminal law.
District Court acquitted the applicant of both defamation and insult
and imposed an administrative fine of 500,000 Romanian lei
(ROL). The court also found that the conditions had been met for the
applicant's civil liability and that of the company publishing the
newspaper, in respect of the prejudice caused to the victim. It thus
ordered the applicant and the company to pay ROL 3,000,000 to A.V.I.
as compensation for
non-pecuniary damage. Lastly, the applicant was ordered to pay ROL 350,000 to the State in court fees.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
“In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal ...”
1. The parties' submissions
2. The Court's assessment
For all these reasons, the Court considers that the County Court did not give the applicant the opportunity to present his defence.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 10 OF THE CONVENTION
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
1. The parties' submissions
As for the applicant's allegation that he had been forced to reveal his sources, they pointed out that the relevant article of the Criminal Code did not preclude the possibility of proving the absence of an intention to denigrate, but that the courts had concluded that the applicant had acted in bad faith.
2. The Court's assessment
Accordingly, the Court finds that, given the context and the seriousness of the allegations, the article contributed to a debate of public interest.
Without denying the provocative value of these expressions, the Court reiterates that journalistic freedom also covers possible recourse to a degree of exaggeration, or even provocation and cannot be regarded as overstepping the limits set by the Convention and the case-law on freedom of the press (see Dalban v. Romania [GC], no. 28114/95, § 49, ECHR 1999 VI).
Making its own assessment in the light of these findings, the Court considers that nothing in the file indicates that the applicant acted in bad faith, with intent to denigrate A.V.I. (see, a contrario, Stângu and Scutelnicu, cited above, § 51).
For the same reasons, although the amounts imposed on the applicant by the domestic courts in respect of a fine, damages and costs were moderate, this fact cannot change the above conclusion.
III. OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
IV. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
B. Costs and expenses
– EUR 2,875 in lawyer's fees for his first lawyer, Ms Monica Macovei;
– EUR 1,255 in lawyer's fees for his second lawyer, Ms Alexandra Răzvan-Mihalcea;
– EUR 300 for technical support from APADOR.
A detailed description of the lawyers' fee is annexed to his observations.
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 3,000 (three thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(b) that the respondent State is to pay directly to the applicant's representatives, within the same three months, EUR 2,200 (two thousand two hundred euros) for costs and expenses;
(c) that the above amounts are to be converted into the respondent State's national currency at the rate applicable at the date of settlement;
(d) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
Done in English, and notified in writing on 24 November 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Stanley Naismith Josep Casadevall
Deputy Registrar President