Tech & Rights

The Médor Case: Illegitimate Judicial Censorship in Belgium

The decision to prevent the publication of the magazine Médor is a serious attack on press freedom and the freedom of expression as protected by European law.

by David Morelli
The interim order prohibiting the publication of the first issue of the magazine Médor places the importance of private economic interests ahead of the right of citizens to information. It is also in direct contradiction to the Belgian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

On November 18, the president of the court of first instance of Namur agreed with the application of Mithra Pharmaceuticals and ordered an immediate stop to the publication of the magazine Médor, under threat of astronomical penalties.

Private interests reign

Mithra's application was made to stop the publication of the magazine's investigation into possible irregularities in the relations between the Wallonia-based pharmaceutical company and public authorities. This topic is, obviously, of general interest to the public.

In a case without prior adversarial judicial proceeding - very rare in Belgium - the judge gave more consideration to private interests than to the right to information of citizens. This unilateral decision jeopardizes the freedom of information, and the legal basis for this censorship is more than questionable.

An error in judgment

Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2011 in RTBF v. Belgium that the legal grounds used to justify the censorship of press materials in Belgium – namely Articles 18, 19, 584 and 1039 of the Judicial Code and Article 1382 of the Civil Code – cannot be considered "specific legal texts" and cannot take priority over the freedom of expression as protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Namur court's decision should be viewed as both a violation of the Belgian Constitution (Article 19, which guarantees freedom of expression, and Article 25, which guarantees freedom of press) and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The League of Human Rights (LDH) takes this opportunity to reiterate that freedom of expression and the right to information are two of the main pillars of the rule of law.

LDH is convinced that, in the course of future oral arguments and deliberations, these essential rights will prevail over the individual interests of a private company, and Médor will soon be free to publish the results of its investigation.