Factsheet – Access to Internet and freedom to receive and impart information and ideas
September 2022 This Factsheet does not bind the Court and is not exhaustive
Access to Internet and freedom to receive and impart information and ideas
Measures blocking access to Internet
Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey concerned a court decision to block access to Google Sites, which hosted an Internet site whose owner was facing criminal proceedings for insulting the memory of Atatürk.The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, finding that the effects of the measure in question had been arbitrary and the judicial review of the blocking of access had been insufficient to prevent abuses. The Court accepted that this was not a blanket ban but rather a restriction on Internet access. However, the limited effect of the restriction did not lessen its significance, particularly as the Internet
had now become one of the principal means of exercising the right to freedom of expression and information. The Court also reiterated in particular that a restriction on access to a source of information was only compatible with the Convention if a strict legal framework was in place regulating the scope of a ban and affording the guarantee of judicial review to prevent possible abuses.
Akdeniz v. Turkey This case concerned the blocking of access to two websites (“myspace.com” and “last.fm”) on the grounds that they streamed music without respecting copyright legislation.The Court declared the application inadmissible (incompatible ratione personae), finding that the mere fact that the applicant – like the other Turkish users of the websites in question – had been indirectly affected by a blocking measure against two music-sharing websites could not suffice for him to be regarded as a “victim” for the purposes of Article 34 (right of individual application) of the Convention. While stressing that the rights of internet users are of paramount importance, the Court nevertheless noted in particular that the two music streaming websites in question had been blocked because they operated in breach of copyright law.
Cengiz and Others v. Turkey concerned the wholesale blocking of access to YouTube, a website enabling users to send, view and share videos. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, finding that the interference resulting from the application of the impugned provision of the law in question did not satisfy the requirement of lawfulness under the Convention and that the applicants had not enjoyed a sufficient degree of protection. The Court noted in particular that the applicants, all academics in different universities, had been prevented from accessing YouTube for a lengthy period of time and that, as active users, and having regard to the circumstances of the case, they could legitimately claim that the blocking order in question had affected their right to receive and impart information and ideas.
Vladimir Kharitonov v. Russia, OOO Flavus and Others v. Russia, Bulgakov v. Russia and Engels v. Russia concerned the blocking of websites in Russia and, in particular, different types of blocking measures, including “collateral” blocking (where the IP address that was blocked was shared by several sites including the targeted one); “excessive” blocking (where the whole website was blocked because of a single page or file), and “wholesale” blocking (three online media were blocked by the Prosecutor General for their coverage of certain news). The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention and a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 10. It highlighted in particular the importance of the Internet as a vital tool in exercising the right to freedom of expression. Among other things, the Court found that the provisions of Russia’s Information Act used to block the websites had produced excessive and arbitrary effects and had not provided proper safeguards against abuse.
Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia2
7 June 2022 (judgment)
This case concerned various actions taken by the Russian State against Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organisations in Russia over a ten-year span, including amendments to anti-extremist legislation leading to the banning of their international website. The Court held, inter alia, that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention read in the light of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) on account of the designation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international website as “extremist”, finding that the decision to block access to the entire website had been unlawful and disproportionate, all the more so as “Watchtower New York”, the website
1. On 16 September 2022 the Russian Federation ceased to be a Party to the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”).
2. On 16 September 2022 the Russian Federation ceased to be a Party to the Convention.
owner, had taken down the offending publications in the meantime. The Court noted in particular, in that regard, that preventing access to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website from within Russia had amounted to “interference by a public authority” with the right of “Watchtower New York” to disseminate information to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and other interested persons in Russia.
Internet sites containing legal information
Kalda v. Estonia concerned a prisoner’s complaint about the authorities’ refusal to grant him access to three Internet websites, containing legal information, run by the State and by the Council of Europe. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, finding that the refusal to grant the applicant access to Internet websites containing legal information had breached his right to receive information. The Court noted in particular that Contracting States are not obliged to grant prisoners access to Internet. In the specific circumstances of the applicant’s case, the reasons, namely the security and costs implications, for not allowing him access to the Internet sites in question had not been sufficient to justify the interference with his right to receive information.
Ramazan Demir v. Turkey concerned the prison authorities’ refusal to grant a request for access to certain Internet sites, lodged by the applicant, a lawyer, in the course of his pre-trial detention in Silivri Prison in 2016. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, finding that the Turkish Government had not shown that the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify the measure being challenged had been relevant and sufficient, or that this interference had been necessary in a democratic society.
Internet sites providing educational information
Jankovskis v. Lithuania concerned a prisoner’s complaint that he had been refused access to a website run by the Ministry of Education and Science, thus preventing him from receiving education-related information. The Court was not persuaded that sufficient reasons had been put forward by the Lithuanian authorities to justify the interference with the applicant’s right to receive information which, in the specific circumstances of the case, could not be regarded as having been necessary in a democratic society. It therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. The Court noted in particular that Article 10 could not be interpreted as imposing a general obligation to provide access to the Internet, or to specific Internet sites for prisoners.. However, the website to which the applicant wished to have access contained information about learning and study programmes in Lithuania, and it was not unreasonable to hold that such information was directly relevant to the applicant’s interest in obtaining education, which was in turn relevant for his rehabilitation and subsequent reintegration into society. The Court also observed that the Internet played an important role in people’s everyday lives, in particular since certain information was exclusively available on the Internet. The Lithuanian authorities had however not considered the possibility of granting the applicant limited or controlled Internet access to that particular website administered by a State institution, which could hardly have posed a security risk.
Mehmet Reşit Arslan and Orhan Bingöl v. Turkey The applicants, who were convicted in 1992 and 1995, respectively, for membership of an illegal armed organisation and were both serving sentences of life imprisonment, complained in particular of being prevented from using a computer and accessing the Internet. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to education) of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention in respect of both applicants. It was not persuaded by the grounds put forward to justify the Turkish authorities’ denial of the requests by the applicants to use audio-visual materials and computers and to have Internet access, and found that the domestic courts had failed to strike a fair balance between their right to education on the one hand and the imperatives of public order on the other.