EHRC Supporting Student Accused of Defamation by Estonian Radio Provocateur

An Estonian university student created a petition calling for the host to be fired for hateful language towards minorities, with the host responding by suing for defamation.

The Estonian Human Rights Centre (EHRC) was contacted by a freelance artist and university student called Katrina. She is being sued by Alari Kivisaar, the host of Radio Sky Plus in Estonia, who accused her of defamation.

Student aims to protect the fundamental rights of everyone

In June, Katrina launched a public petition to have Kivisaar fired from the radio, with the aim of protecting the fundamental rights of everybody and to oppose injustice towards of minorities. In the petition, Katrina cited what Kivisaar had publicly said on the radio. Kivisaar claims that he had been waiting for a public apology to avoid litigation, but in reality, this is not true. The statement of claim sent to Katrina in June states that Kivisaar is seeking compensation of 75,000 euros and the removal of the allegedly defamatory content.

Estonian Human Rights Centre providing legal support

The Estonian Human Rights Centre, in cooperation with Meris Velling, an attorney at the law firm Liverte, decided to support Katrina with her trial. We believe that freedom of expression is also the freedom to stand up for the rights of minorities, to write public letters, to create petitions or to use other means of denouncing statements that go against human rights.

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of a society that respects human rights, but so is the right to live a life free from discrimination and persecution,” said Kelly Grossthal, the Centre’s head of strategic litigation. “We believe that this case is important from a human rights perspective, as it helps us as a society to discuss how the right to exercise our freedom of expression and the right to protect the rights of minorities relate to each other,” she added.

Freedom of speech doesn't mean people can say whatever they want

By supporting Katrina, EHRC stands for freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right for all of us. Freedom of expression is an important human right that allows for an unhampered exchange of ideas, opinions and information, thus allowing people to form their own opinions on important issues. Freedom of expression is not absolute, but restricting it too much is a threat to democracy, as sharing thoughts and receiving information are prerequisites for exercising many other rights and freedoms. Being able to express opinions is a fundamental right of everyone, but it must be done while respecting the rights of others. Defamation and incitement to hatred are prohibited by law in Estonia. Therefore, the broader goal of this strategic litigation is also greater social influence and the fight for the freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right.

The Estonian Human Rights Centre's strategic cases have made it to court thanks to our generous donors. The forthcoming lawsuit will be labour-intensive and costly, which is why every donation means a lot. We are sincerely grateful to every regular donor and to the friends of human rights who have made small individual contributions, because it is you who are helping us to support Katrina’s justice and stand up for the freedom of expression and human rights.

Katrina’s public speech

“I drafted the petition to draw attention to the statements of the radio host of Raadio SkyPlus. The main and broader aim of the petition was to protect the fundamental values of all of us and to not normalise slanderous and degrading statements. I had heard similar comments on the radio and in the media before, and considering the situation in the world during Kivisaar’s last statements. Remaining silent was not an option for me.

In the petition, I gave each signatory the opportunity to get acquainted with what had been said and to draw their own conclusions. The radio show that featured the statements brought out in the petition, are available to everyone on the Raadio SkyPlus website, and everybody was able to listen to them before signing the petition. My aim in petitioning was to prevent public figures from being able to make comments that infringe human rights while not taking responsibility for their statements.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of us all. I do not support defamation and have not wanted to personally attack anyone. I stand for the values I believe in. I have been raised to stand up for human rights and to use my voice. It must be possible to oppose injustice through citizens’ initiatives. We all have the right to freedom of speech and expression, to petition and to express our views in defence of human rights. However, this does mean people are free to make racist or chauvinistic comments in the public media, and unfortunately the statements brought out in the petition are in no way in line with our constitutional values.

In his address, Kivisaar says that the only acceptable solution is for me to pay 75,000 euros in damages and remove the post. As an artist and a student, a claim for damages of this amount is a real shock to me. Unlike the impression made on the public, Kivisaar has not wanted to find any other solution to the situation, including an apology. I do not support defamation or people who insult others in an unjustified and derogatory manner, but a distinction must be made between defamation and the right of everyone to defend constitutional and social values in the context of a citizens’ initiative. Everyone has the right to condemn and obstruct statements that threaten constitutional values and are collectively declared inappropriate in our legal and cultural space, including racist statements.

Alari Kivisaar exercised his right to self-expression, but part of freedom of expression is also the right of others to express their opinions. The radio host has a large audience and influence, so it is especially important that people who respect human rights also make their views known to the public. The petition was one such option.

I have turned to Estonian Human Rights Centre and Meris Velling, a sworn lawyer of the law firm Liverte, for help. They are ready to fully support me in defending our constitutional values and, if necessary, to defend me in court.”