José Luis Gutiérrrez
José Luis Gutiérrrez

European Human Rights Court takes on press freedom

The European Court of Human Rights issued a historic sentence on June 1, when it ruled that Spain’s sentencing in a case between the now-deceased Moroccan king Hassan II and me, formerly the editor of the Madrid-based newspaper Diario 16, violated the rights of freedom of expression and of the press.

On December 18, 1995, the now-defunct Diario 16 published a story on the confiscation of a truck loaded with hashish in southern Spain. A company belonging to the Moroccan royal family owned the truck. In 1997, the Moroccan crown sued me in Spain, alleging that the article had damaged the king’s reputation. The local court favored the plaintiff’s position, and ordered me and Diario 16 to pay a fine and publish the ruling in the paper.

Higher Spanish courts confirmed the conviction. They based their decisions on a Press Law enacted in 1966, during the Franco’s regime. Although it may sound ridiculous, the law is still in force in Spain.

The European court ruled that “the restriction on the applicant’s freedom of expression had not been proportionate to the potential seriousness of the damage to the reputation in question,” the Vienna-based International Press Institute reported.

The recent judgment represents an important endorsement to the press based not only in my country, but all around the globe. In this regard, I must thank the Committee to Protect Journalists for supporting my case, and submitting to the court an amicus brief on my behalf in 2009.

José Luis Gutiérrrez is a columnist for the Madrid-based daily El Mundo and publisher of Leer magazine.