ECHR judgment of 08 January 2019 in the case of Prunea v. Romania (application No. 47881/11).
In 2011, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated by Romania.
In the case, the application was successfully examined and the applicant was held liable for mentioning in the article of a commercial dispute involving a candidate for parliament. There was no violation of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Circumstances of the case
The applicant, a university professor and author of articles in many magazines and newspapers, wrote an article about a candidate from one of the political parties in the parliamentary elections, referring to a commercial dispute between the candidate and a brokerage company. The applicant's allegations were reproduced on ballot papers distributed in several public places. In the defamation suit of the parliamentary candidate, the applicant was held accountable.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Regarding compliance with article 10 of the Convention. The applicant’s criticism was directed against a politician with respect to whom the boundaries of acceptable criticism are wider than with respect to a private individual. Having put forward his candidacy in the parliamentary elections, the candidate began political activity and inevitably and consciously made himself an object of close attention. For these reasons, a greater degree of tolerance was required of him.
However, the Romanian courts concluded that the applicant’s allegations damaged the candidate’s reputation and dignity and that they should not have been published in the press, especially as they related to personal matters. The Romanian courts took into account the context in which the controversial allegations were made, namely the election campaign, and confirmed that they were of public interest, as they concerned the public figure. It is important that when deciding on the satisfaction of the claim against the applicant, the courts took into account that the applicant’s intention was not to criticize the candidate’s activities as a public figure, but rather to unilaterally look at a commercial trial in which they participated two private parties. In this regard, the courts also found that the applicant had violated the minimum requirements for diligence, that is, conscientious acts.
The Court agreed with the Romanian courts that the disputed allegations constituted an infringement of the candidate’s reputation, reached the required level of seriousness and diminished the candidate’s right to respect for his personal life, guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention. The Romanian courts appropriately weighed the rights involved in the case in accordance with the criteria established in the case-law of the European Court. Moreover, they convincingly proved the need to put the right to protection of reputation above the right of the applicant to freedom of expression. The Court would need serious reasons to replace the views of the Romanian courts with its own, and there were no such reasons in the present case.
Finally, in the specific circumstances of the present case, the fine imposed on the applicant in the amount of EUR 5,000 could not be recognized as a disproportionately severe punishment and could not be considered to have a “restraining” effect for the applicant to exercise his right to freedom of expression.
There was no violation of the requirements of Article 10 of the Convention in the case (adopted by five votes in favor and two against).