Application no. 53970/00
by Alexandra PASCALIDOU and Others
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 11 February 2003 as a Chamber composed of
Mr M. Pellonpää, President,
Mrs E. Palm,
Mrs V. Strážnická,
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr R. Maruste,
Mr S. Pavlovschi,
Mr J. Borrego Borrego, judges,
and Mr M. O’Boyle, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 8 November 1999,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Ms Alexandra Pascalidou, Mr Michael Alonzo and Mr Claes Cassel, are Swedish nationals, who were born in 1970, 1960 and 1939 respectively and live in Stockholm. Ms Pascalidou is also a Greek citizen. They are represented before the Court by Mr Thomas Rothpfeffer, a lawyer practising in Stockholm.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicants, may be summarised as follows.
Ms Pascalidou was a journalist and an anchorperson for a TV-programme called Mosaik, dealing with multicultural matters. Her cohabitant, Mr Alonzo, was in 1998 the chairperson and the spokesperson of the national programme in Sweden of the Council of Europe’s antiracist campaign “all different all equal” (Alla Olika Alla Lika). Mr Cassel was the Chief of Police in the County of Stockholm and the spokesperson for the police at the material time.
On 13 January 1998 a Swedish journalist of the Swedish evening paper, Aftonbladet, contacted Mr Cassel and showed him a photograph of a masked and armed person standing outside his home. The next day the photograph was published in Aftonbladet under the headline “Here Nazis threaten the Chief of Police at his home”. The matter was front-page news and was followed by a two-page article in the paper under the headline “Chief of Police threatened with death”. On the front-page there was also a smaller photograph of Mr Cassel.
Later in January 1998 the above-mentioned journalist contacted Ms Pascalidou and showed her a photograph of an armed man with a mask standing outside her and her cohabitant Mr Alonzo’s home. On 19 January 1998 this photograph and a smaller one of Ms Pascalidou were published in Aftonbladet under the headline “Armed Nazis outside TV-Star’s home”. The caption stated that she was threatened by a Nazi terror group. Inside the paper there was a two-page article with a larger photograph of the armed person and pictures of Ms Pascalidou and Mr Alonzo.
In June 1998 the journalist and five other persons were prosecuted for unlawful threats against a public servant, Mr Cassel, and for unlawful threats against all the applicants. The five other persons were accused of having taken part in the staging and production of the photographs and in the delivery of the relevant rolls of film to the journalist.
By judgment of 13 July 1998 the District Court acquitted the journalist but convicted the five co-accused of having committed the offences of “unlawful threat” and “threat against a public servant” with respect to the applicants. The court also ordered them to pay compensation to the applicants. On appeal the Court of Appeal upheld the judgment.
The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal and, by a judgment of 19 May 1999, quashed the lower courts’ judgment. It found that the publication of the photographs formed part of journalistic activity and therefore, irrespective of their threatening character, fell within the Freedom of the Press Act (Tryckfrihetsförordningen). The accused persons’ delivery of the roll of films was considered to be covered by the freedom to communicate information (meddelarfrihet) to the media, which was guaranteed under Chapter 1 and 3 of the Freedom of the Press Act. The Supreme Court further rejected the prosecution argument that the fact that the journalist had shown the photographs to Ms Pascalidou and Mr Cassel before their publication could lead to a different legal assessment.
At the material time, Chapter 7, section 4 of the Freedom of the Press Act, which contained an exhaustive list of specified acts deemed to constitute offences against the freedom of the press, did not mention either the offence of “unlawful threat” or that of “threat against a public servant”. By legislative amendments, which entered into force on 1 January 2003, such offences were added to the list of offences in section 4.
Relying on Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”), the applicants alleged that the Swedish legislation was insufficient for protecting their right to respect for private life. They submitted that, following the Supreme Court’s judgment in their case, it was clear that they had no remedy under the criminal law with respect to the reprehensible acts outside their home and the subsequent publication of the frightening and threatening photographs of these acts in the press.
On 16 January 2003 the Registrar received from the Agent of the Government of Sweden (“the Government”) a letter dated 18 December 2002, enclosing the following declaration signed respectively on 9 and 17 December 2002 by her and counsel for the applicants:
“The ... Government ... and the applicants have now reached the following friendly settlement on the basis of respect for human rights, as defined in the ... Convention..., in order to terminate the proceedings before the Court.
a) The Government will pay, ex gratia, the sum of SEK 275,000 to the applicants. The amount will be paid to their counsel, Mr Tomas Rothpfeffer, who has been authorised by the applicants to receive payment on their behalf. Execution of payment will take place when the Government has received the Court’s decision striking the case out of its list of cases.
b) The applicants declare that they have no further claims on the Swedish State based on the facts of the above application.
This settlement is dependent upon the formal approval of the Government at a Cabinet meeting.”
In her above letter of 18 December 2002, the Agent added that an amendment to the Freedom of the Press Act, relevant to the present application, would enter into force as from 1 January 2003.
On 30 January 2003, the Registrar received a further letter from the Agent, dated 24 January 2003, informing that the Government had approved the settlement on 16 January 2003 and would effect the ex gratia payment when the case had been struck out of the Court’s list of cases.
The Court takes note of the agreement reached between the parties (Article 39 of the Convention) and of the amendments made to the Freedom of the Press Act as of 1 January 2003. It is satisfied that the settlement is based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention or its Protocols (Article 37 § 1 in fine of the Convention and Rule 62 § 3 of the Rules of Court).
Accordingly, the case should be struck out of the list.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.
Michael O’Boyle Matti Pellonpää
PASCALIDOU AND OTHERS v. SWEDEN DECISION
PASCALIDOU AND OTHERS v. SWEDEN DECISION