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Pro-life ads censored in Slovenia – Ruling expected

  • Slovenian bus company censored pro-life messages

  • National equality body found state-owned bus company guilty of discrimination

LJUBLJANA (9 June 2021) – Can state-owned service providers pull down ads that authorities decide they don’t like? In Slovenia, a state-owned bus company removed ads commissioned by the pro-life NGO Zavod ŽIV!M in 2018. They deemed the messages “We love Life!”, “You are not alone”, “Step out of Silence” and “I mourn my child”, accompanied by pictures of a happy family, a grieving mother and a woman holding a pregnancy test to be “intolerant”. The state-owned bus company had signed a contract to display the ads for a couple of months, but then took them down after just over a week. When Zavod ŽIV!M sought redress, the national Slovenian equality body called the “Advocate of the Principle of Equality”, found that the bus company had discriminated against the pro-life NGO. Now, the bus company is suing the Advocate of the Principle of Equality to challenge this decision. The court is due to announce the ruling this month.

“Every life is valuable. We want to stand by women in crisis, especially those facing unplanned pregnancies or the loss of a child. Our bus ads were meant to show them that they are not alone. We want to offer them help and assistance,” said Darja Pečnik, the director of Zavod ŽIV!M.

State censorship a growing concern across Europe

“In a free marketplace of ideas, everyone should be able to share messages freely, without fear of censorship. The Zavod ŽIV!M campaigners believe that every human life is valuable. In sharing and advertising this view, they were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression. We hope that the court will affirm the findings of the Slovenian Advocate of the Principle of Equality that the removal of the ads was indeed discriminatory,” said Tomaž Pisk, the lead lawyer representing Zavod ŽIV!M.

Human rights experts from ADF International also expressed concern about this case:

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Why should these innocuous statements and pictures of a happy family, a grieving mother and a woman holding a pregnancy test be considered intolerant? We must not forget that the European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that the right to freedom of expression protects not just popular ideas but also those that shock, offend, and disturb. Removing the bus ads is nothing other than censorship, which infringes on Zavod ŽIV!M’s right to freedom of expression,” said Adina Portaru, Senior Counsel for ADF International, a human rights organisation supporting Zavod ŽIV!M.

State censorship is an increasing problem across Europe. In a similar case in the UK, another message of hope was taken down from busses by authorities in 2018. The posters advertised a planned Christan festival featuring pastor Franklin Graham. They carried only the title “A Time for Hope”, the date and location of the festival, with an invitation to book free tickets. This year, a UK court ruled that the censorship of these ads had been discriminatory. 

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