by AÇIK GÖZ
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 3 November 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 8 December 2004,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the applicant newspaper’s failure to submit observations,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant newspaper, Açik Göz, is registered in Comrat, Moldova. It is represented before the Court by Mr I. Topal, its editor-in-chief. The Moldovan Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr V. Grosu.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
In its June-August 1997 issue, the applicant newspaper published an article entitled “Removing the inscription ‘secret’”. In it, the applicant newspaper reproduced the text of a letter which had been sent in 1985 by the local KGB office to the then Secretary of the Communist Party of Comrat regarding the verification of biographical data which S. had submitted about himself to various State authorities.
The letter included statements about incorrect information which S. had submitted to the authorities regarding his participation in the Second World War, decorations he had obtained during that war and his studies and employment in the 1940s.
Immediately after the letter, the article included a comment, in italics, by the applicant newspaper. The comment stated:
“The [national] press has made public a lot of KGB documents. But what was the provincial KGB up to?
The KGB was a ‘State within a State’ and wanted to find out everything about our lives. It was interested not only in religious leaders or L. Dobrov, but also in the locally well-known war veteran [S.].
How was it possible to resist the machine which was the KGB? We have asked [S.] himself to tell us about this in the next issue of our newspaper.
In reproducing a part of an official document of the KGB we have preserved its style and punctuation”.
On an unknown date in 2003 S. initiated court proceedings claiming damages for the publication of untrue information about him. Since the SIS had obtained possession of all KGB archives, the court joined it to the proceedings.
On 30 July 2003 the Ciadîr Lunga District Court partly accepted S.’s claims and ordered the applicant newspaper to publish an apology and to pay damages of 3,000 Moldovan lei (MDL) (approximately 185 euros (EUR)). The court found that the applicant newspaper had not contacted the SIS before publishing the letter and had not obtained its permission to do so. The court relied on certain provisions of the new Civil Code, in force after 12 June 2003.
On 11 February 2004 the Chişinău Court of Appeal quashed the lower court’s judgment and adopted a new one, rejecting all S.’s claims. It found that the applicant newspaper could not be held responsible for reproducing an official document.
On 9 June 2004 the Supreme Court of Justice quashed the judgment of the Chişinău Court of Appeal and upheld that of the first-instance court. It found that the letter had not been submitted for publication by any public authority and no permission had been sought from the SIS in this regard. By failing to ask permission from the SIS the applicant newspaper had revealed a State secret. In the court’s view, the first-instance court had correctly applied the legislation regarding the protection of honour and dignity.
The applicant newspaper complained under Article 10 of the Convention of a violation of its right to freedom of expression.
By letter dated 18 June 2007 the Government’s observations were sent to the applicant newspaper’s representative, who was requested to submit any observations together with any claims for just satisfaction in reply by 13 August 2007.
By letter dated 21 June 2007, before receiving the Court’s letter of 18 June 2007, the applicant newspaper’s representative enquired about the stage of the proceedings reached in the present case.
By letter dated 28 April 2008, sent by registered post, the applicant newspaper’s representative was notified that the period allowed for submission of his observations had expired on 13 August 2007 and that no extension of that time-limit had been requested. The applicant newspaper’s representative’s attention was drawn to the possibility that the Court may strike a case out of its list of cases where the circumstances lead to the conclusion that the applicant does not intend to pursue the application. The applicant newspaper’s representative received this letter on 13 May 2008. However, no reply has been received.
The Court considers that, in these circumstances, the applicant newspaper may be regarded as no longer wishing to pursue its application, within the meaning of Article 37 § 1 (a) of the Convention. Furthermore, in accordance with Article 37 § 1 in fine, the Court finds no special circumstances regarding respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols which require the continued examination of the case. In view of the above, it is appropriate to strike the case out of the list.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.
Fatoş Aracı Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President