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29.06.2016

European Court upholds criminal conviction for purchasing illegal firearm as a form of ‘check it out’ journalism in Salihu ao v. Sweden

By Dirk Voorhoof and Daniel Simons
Investigative journalism sometimes operates at the limits of the law. This is especially true of what could be called ‘check it out’ journalism: reporting in which a journalist tests how effective a law or procedure is by attempting to circumvent it.

A recent decision shows that those who commit (minor) offences during this type of newsgathering activity cannot count on (major) support from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Journalists of the Swedish newspaper Expressen had undertaken to demonstrate the easy availability of illegal firearms by purchasing one. The Swedish courts were of the opinion that the editor and the journalists could not be exempted from criminal liability as they had wilfully breached the Swedish Weapons Act. In a unanimous decision, the ECtHR confirmed the necessity of the journalists’ criminal conviction. It declared the application for alleged breach of the right of journalistic newsgathering under Article 10 of the Convention manifestly ill-founded. Coming after the Grand Chamber’s judgment in Pentikäinen v. Finland (see our blog here) and in Bédat v. Switzerland (see our blog here), the decision in Salihu and others v. Sweden can be perceived as a new step in downsizing the rights of journalists with regard to their newsgathering activities. The Court’s ruling may also have a chilling effect on undercover investigative reporting.

Read more on Strasbourg Observer


Dirk Voorhoof, Human Rights Centre Ghent University (Belgium), Copenhagen University (Denmark), Legal Human Academy and member of the Executive Board of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF, Germany)

Daniel Simons, Legal Officer for Freedom of Assembly, Expression and Information, Open Society Justice Initiative (New York)



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