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Estonia: Prisoner’s internet access ban breached human rights law

Judges ruled today that Estonia’s refusal to grant a life-prisoner access to Internet websites containing legal information, breached European human rights law.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Kalda v. Estonia (application no. 17429/10) the European Court of Human Rights held, by six votes to one, that there had been:

a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned a Romeo Kalda’s complaint about the authorities’ refusal to grant him access to three Internet websites, containing legal information, run by the State and by the Council of Europe.

Kalda, the applicant, complained in particular that the ban under Estonian law on his accessing these specific websites had breached his right to receive information via the Internet and prevented him from carrying out legal research for court proceedings in which he was engaged.

The court found in particular that contracting states are not obliged to grant prisoners access to Internet. However, if a State is willing to allow prisoners access, as is the case in Estonia, it has to give reasons for refusing access to specific sites. In the specific circumstances of Kalda’s case, the reasons, namely the security and costs implications, for not allowing him access to the Internet sites in question had not been sufficient to justify the interference with his right to receive information.

Notably, the authorities had already made security arrangements for prisoners’ use of Internet via computers specially adapted for that purpose and under the supervision of the prison authorities and had borne the related costs.

Indeed, the domestic courts had undertaken no detailed analysis as to the possible security risks of access to the three additional websites in question, bearing in mind that they were run by an international organisation and by the state itself.

Article 41 (just satisfaction)

The court held, by six votes to one, that the finding of a violation constituted sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by Kalda.

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