[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday rejected [decision; press release] a complaint filed by Yevgeny Dzhugashvili against the Russian Novaya Gazeta [media website] newspaper for allegedly committing libel against his grandfather, Josef Stalin. The case concerns two articles published by the opposition newspaper regarding the execution of prisoners in the Polish Katyn war in 1940, the first of which criticized the Soviet leaders that ordered the executions and called Stalin a “bloodthirsty cannibal.” Dzhugashvili claimed that the defamation violated his right to privacy. The ECHR made a distinction between defaming an individual whose reputation is linked to that of his family, whose privacy is protected under ECHR Article 8 [materials], and the “legitimate criticism of public figures exposed to public scrutiny.”
In this case, the publication by the Novaya Gazeta article contributed to the historical debate of public importance on Stalin and his alleged role in the Katyń massacre. … In addition, the tragedy of Katyń and roles that would have been those of historical figures and their responsibilities are inevitably exposed to public scrutiny and criticism.
This complaint followed Dzhugashvili’s lawsuit in Moscow on the same issue, which was dismissed. The dismissal was affirmed by a Russian appeals court, and the ECHR supported these decisions.
Rights activists and political dissenters throughout the globe have faced defamation actions in response to alleged uncovering of government abuse. In November an official for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] stated [JURIST report] that human rights activists in Burundi have been the subjects of threats and defamation for their current role within the state. In May a Palestinian court announced [JURIST report] that Mohammed Dahlan, leading rival of President Mahmoud Abbas, had been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for defamation. In 2013 Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Tunisian authorities to repeal a law that criminalizes defamation.