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European Court finds that defamation proceedings taken by a politician breached the right to freedom of expression

Lykin v Ukraine [2017] ECHR 17

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that comments made about a local politician elected to a post of responsibility within the district Council, in Ukraine, were not defamatory.  Such comments were capable of justification within Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2007, the defendant, president of a local branch of a Ukrainian political party read out a letter at a meeting attended by over forty other local party members, including the applicant.  The letter contained statements which were highly critical of the applicant, describing him as a ‘gabber and a petty tyrant’, accusing him of destroying the work in the locality during his time in office and misspending funds.  It then demanded his resignation.  He claimed that the allegations lacked any evidentiary basis.

The Ukrainian courts upheld the defamation claim and the defendant applied to the ECtHR, claiming the judgment violated his rights under Article 10.  The Court emphasised that while a politician is entitled to protection of their reputation, the requirements of that protection should be weighed against the interests of open discussion of political issues.  Given that the statements concerned the official performance of an elected representative and having regard to the public status of the speaker and forum, the defendant’s comments were regarded as political speech.  The letter did not meet the high threshold necessary under Article 10 to restrict speech.

Read Inforrm article here.

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Dafamation