Challenging pro-life ad censorship in Slovenia
Topic | Freedom of Expression, Right to Life
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 several 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. Then the bus company sued the Advocate of the Principle of Equality to challenge this decision. In December 2021, the court criticised the equality body’s initial ruling, and asked the equality body to reexamine it, thus suggesting there was no discriminatory treatment by the bus company.
State censorship a growing concern across Europe
“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. 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.
“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. 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.
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