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  article archives at abelard's news and comment zonecivil liberties archives 1 V-2004: 23

civil liberties



echr rules in favour of free speech against french state

It has taken him 8 years of hassle!
This story does does not appear anywhere I can find in English language news. Nor is there any statement concerning damages besides the derisory €26k mentioned below.

[Staff translation and précis from Liberation and Humanité]

Doctor Claude Gubler was French President François Mitterand’s private medic, tending him during his terminal prostate cancer. One week after Mitterand’s death in 1996, Gubler published a book on the cause of Mitterand’s death, which had been a secret until the last. After all, actual French Presidents are never ill. Gubler admitted that he had been issuing false medical bulletins during both Mitterand’s 7-year periods as President.

The Mitterand family had an injunction put on the book a day or so after it was published, the judges giving as the excuse ‘violation of medical secrets’. Gluber was then stuck off the medical register, given a four month suspended sentence, and he and the publisher had to pay fines and damages and interest to the Mitterand family. The sentences were later confirmed on appeal.

On 18 may 2004, seven judges of the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that the banning of The Big Secret ordered by the French courts violated the right to freedom of expression (article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights). The ban could have been regarded as legitimate shortly after Mitterand’s death, but not nine months later when a Paris appeal court refused an appeal.

The ECHR emphasised that freedom of expression, of which the press and book publishers are guard dogs, is one of the essential foundations of democratic societies. Dr Gubler, whose revelations on ‘state secrets’ contributed to ‘the transparency of political life’ according to the court, has his legal rights restored and the French State is condemned to pay the publisher 26,000 euro damages and interests.

During the two days in 1996 that the book was on sale, 40,000 copies were sold. Soon after the ban, a pirated copy was put on the internet.


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