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Slovenian Court fails to protect free speech for pro-life NGO

  • Slovenian court rules against NGO that had paid to share pro-life ads on city buses

  • Pro-life NGO continues to fight for freedom of expression

LUBLJANA (9 December 2021) – In a blow for the right to freedom of expression, the Administrative Court of the Republic of Slovenia found that the pro-life NGO Zavod ŽIV!M, whose bus ads had been removed in 2018, had not been discriminated against. The state-owned bus company, contracted by the NGO, had agreed to display their ads for a couple of months. The municipal authorities, however, had deemed the messages “We love Life!”, “You are not alone”, 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”. They instructed the bus company to remove the ads after just over a week. The national equality body found that Zavod ŽIV!M had indeed been discriminated against, but the court now criticised that initial ruling, and asked the equality body to reexamine it.   

“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 are disappointed that the court agreed with the bus company that removed the ads. Our message, which celebrates life, should be celebrated, and instead we have faced discrimination for it.” said Darja Pečnik, the director of Zavod ŽIV!M. 

Censoring of pro-life voices 

“Everyone should be able to share messages freely, without fear of censorship. The ruling of the Slovenian court fails to affirm the right to freedom of expression. In sharing their convictions and affirming the inherent dignity of life, Zavod ŽIV!M were exercising this fundamental right. They believe that every life is valuable, and this message should not be discriminated against or censored,” said Tomaž Pisk, the lead lawyer representing Zavod ŽIV!M. 

Zavod ŽIV!M had bought ad-space on the vehicles of a state-owned bus company in Ljubljana in 2018. The bus company that initially approved the ad unilaterally broke the contract and removed the ad after just over a week. Consequently, Zavod ŽIV!M sought redress and brought the case before the Slovenian Advocate of the Principle of Equality, the national equality body in the Republic of Slovenia. It found that Zavod ŽIV!M had been discriminated against. Then, the bus company sued the Slovenian Advocate of the Principle of Equality in court. The judges now asked for the reexamination of the initial decision, thus suggesting there was no discriminatory treatment by the bus company.  

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of every free and democratic society. These innocuous statements and pictures of a happy family, a grieving mother and a woman holding a pregnancy test should not have been censored. We hope, that on reexamination, the Slovenian Advocate of the Principle of Equality will reaffirm that removing the bus ads amounted to discrimination and infringed 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. 

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