Freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the European Court
of Human Rights, is one of the cornerstones of all democracy, ensuring
While anti-defamation laws can pursue legitimate aims, criminal
sanctions may have a “chilling effect” and restrict free debate.
Improper use of these laws – whether in the criminal or the civil
sphere – places a real “sword of Damocles” over all who wish to
avail themselves of their freedom of expression, especially the
media. Ultimately, the whole of society suffers the consequences
of the pressure that may be placed on journalists.
That is why the Assembly deemed it expedient to address this
issue. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights now invites
it to take a clear stance for the outright abolition of prison sentences
and against disproportionate award of damages.
The Committee of Ministers is also invited to ask all member
states to review their defamation laws; to prepare a recommendation
aimed at eradicating abusive recourse to criminal proceedings; and
to revise Recommendation No. R (97) 20 on “hate speech”, in the
light of the European Court of Human Rights’ evolving case law.