For 10 years we’ve defended journalists, bloggers and media outlets across the world.

Here are their stories.

11 cases against local news couple in Brazil

11 cases against local news couple in Brazil

Radio Aukan: defending community radio in Chile

Radio Aukan: defending community radio in Chile

Lohé Issa Konaté, Burkina Faso

Lohé Issa Konaté, Burkina Faso

Federation of African Journalists v. The Gambia

Federation of African Journalists v. The Gambia

Offensive online? Three years in jail

Offensive online? Three years in jail

UK politician tries to sue Google

UK politician tries to sue Google

Juan Carlos Calderón, Ecuador

Juan Carlos Calderón, Ecuador

Russian magazine 7×7

Russian magazine 7×7

Zunar: cartoons, satire and sedition in Malaysia

Zunar: cartoons, satire and sedition in Malaysia

Claudia Duque: psychological torture in Colombia

Claudia Duque: psychological torture in Colombia

C-Libre Honduras

C-Libre Honduras

Media Development Centre, Macedonia

Media Development Centre, Macedonia

Terrorism accusations in the Official Gazette – TOHAV Turkey

Terrorism accusations in the Official Gazette – TOHAV Turkey

Zanoza case as a test of Kyrgyzstan – the island of freedom of speech in Central Asia

Zanoza case as a test of Kyrgyzstan – the island of freedom of speech in Central Asia

Overview: media freedom in Ukraine

Overview: media freedom in Ukraine

State of media freedom in Uganda, from the 1st of January 2018 to date

State of media freedom in Uganda, from the 1st of January 2018 to date

Poland: a backslide in media freedom

Poland: a backslide in media freedom

Defending independent media in an illiberal regime: new roles, challenges and responses

Defending independent media in an illiberal regime: new roles, challenges and responses

Overwhelming increase in threats against journalists in Colombia

Overwhelming increase in threats against journalists in Colombia

Thousands of journalists risk prison sentences in Italy

Thousands of journalists risk prison sentences in Italy

Hawa Sibally, lawyer, the Gambia

Hawa Sibally, lawyer, the Gambia

Mercy Mutemi, lawyer, Kenya

Mercy Mutemi, lawyer, Kenya

Olumide Babalola, lawyer, Nigeria

Olumide Babalola, lawyer, Nigeria

Tsema Okoye , Lawyer, Nigeria

Tsema Okoye , Lawyer, Nigeria

Mugambi Laibuta, Lawyer, Kenya

Mugambi Laibuta, Lawyer, Kenya

Muchiri Eric Thige, Lawyer, Kenya

Muchiri Eric Thige, Lawyer, Kenya

Christine Nkonge, lawyer, Kenya

Christine Nkonge, lawyer, Kenya

Emmanuel Vargas, lawyer, Colombia

Emmanuel Vargas, lawyer, Colombia

Lamin Jarjue, Lawyer, The Gambia

Lamin Jarjue, Lawyer, The Gambia

Ten years of MLDI : our annual report

Ten years of MLDI : our annual report

From a comedian’s murder to secret service convictions: one journalist’s fight for justice.

Claudia Julieta Duque Orrego is a leading investigative journalist in Colombia. In 1999 the Colombian journalist, satirist and peace activist Jaime Garzón was shot five times in broad daylight. Two years later, when no charges had been brought for his murder, Claudia Duque began investigating. She became the target of intimidation, harassment and threats – which she investigated, too.

years of detention avoided

Over our first ten years we have helped journalists avoid a total 286 years of imprisonment for doing their jobs. That’s 286 more years journalists have been free to publish in the public interest.

Find out more in our top ten statistics.

OUR ACHIEVEMENTS IN NUMBERS »

10 reasons freedom of expression is important

Freedom of expression is a human right which covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. It underpins many other rights.

TEN REASONS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IS IMPORTANT »

We have a decade-long history, and we’ve learnt a lot along the way

  • 2008

    2008

    The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) started life as part of a programme of work within the Open Society Foundations. They had observed a number of their programmes were facing an ever-growing demand for legal defence of media which neither they – nor others – could respond to.

    Having identified this crucial gap, the Open Society Initiative Media Programme and the Open Society Justice Initiative decided to create a new entity. The aim was to create an initiative with the capacity to respond to the constant barrage of lawsuits many independent journalists and media outlets were facing, as well as defending the more headline-grabbing media freedom cases.

    Additional donors pledged their support, including the MacArthur Foundation and the Sigrid Rausing Trust and in 2008, the Media Legal Defence Initiative was incorporated in the United Kingdom.

    We formed an international board comprising media lawyers such as Eduardo Bertoni, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Stuart Karle, former General Counsel at the Wall Street Journal and Beatrice Mtetwa, a Zimbabwean media lawyer, as well as media representatives such as Bambang Harymurti, editor of Indonesia’s Tempo Magazine.

    In our first year MLDI supported a small number of cases in Sub-Saharan African and Asia.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 10

  • 2009

    2009

    In our second year we continued to establish ourselves as an organisation, and supported a small number of cases and partners in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and South-East Asia. These included a number of grants supporting Omoyele Sowore, the founder of Sahara Reporters. The outlet is based in the United States of America but reports on Nigerian news and current affairs. In one case Sowore faced a $25 million defamation suit in the United States following Sahara Reporters’ articles on corruption. You can read more about Sahara Reporters here.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 12

  • 2010

    2010

    As we began to grow and strengthen our networks in other regions, we took our first cases in Latin America (Colombia) and in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a case in Iraq.

    From 2010 we began to grow our grant-making. A call for proposals in December 2010 helped us reach a broader pool of potential partners. Working with in-country media defence organisations in partnership, we began to build capacity on the ground, strengthening the quality of legal support in countries where independent media had the greatest need for lawyers to defend them.

    MLDI had already been active in cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as an intervener, but in 2010 we directly supported applicants to take cases to the ECtHR and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court.

     

    Number of cases supported: 49

  • 2011

    2011

    In our fourth year we secured victories in a number of cases, including long-running cases in Kenya and Dubai which had kept some journalists mired in criminal proceedings for nearly two years.

    MLDI intervened in a criminal defamation case in Bermuda which we hoped would set a positive legal precedent for the region: we argued that criminalising defamation was not compatible with the right to freedom of expression, as per the Constitution of Bermuda. The Supreme Court of Bermuda agreed, issuing a judgment which upheld the argument.

    In 2011, to increase and strengthen legal expertise, we also supported a network of lawyers in South-East Asia through training and support in media defence cases.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 64

  • 2012

    2012

    In 2012 the ‘Foreign Agent Law’ was introduced in Russia, which made it more difficult for us to support one of our key partners, the Russia-based Mass Media Defence Centre. This barrier to defence centre grants produced a sharp increase in the number of individual cases MDLI supported in Russia.

    In Rwanda, we obtained a judgment at the Supreme Court that clarified that the country’s genocide denial laws should only be used against journalists in cases where there is clear intent on the part of the media to incite violence. This important ruling set a precedent which should help prevent these laws being misused against genuine journalism or for political ends. However, as is often the case in our work, the legal precedent was not the whole story, and unfortunately both journalists received jail sentences for other charges. Click here to find out more about the case.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 56

  • 2013

    2013

    In 2013, we strengthened our relationship with partner organisations in Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Uganda. We extended our cooperation include to fundraising and organisational management as well as legal defence of cases.  This was the beginning of our work on providing more comprehensive, holistic support to our grantee partners.

    Latvian journalist Gunta Sloga won the final appeal in her long-running libel battle which we supported.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 61

  • 2014

    2014

    In 2014, MLDI began developing a media law training curriculum (rolled out in 2015) covering national, international and comparative media and freedom of expression law. These resources were created to ensure that media lawyers are able to litigate free speech cases effectively before national courts as well as international courts and tribunals.

    We achieved a major success in our strategic litigation programme at the end of 2014 in the case of Burkinabé journalist Lohé Issa Konaté.  The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights upheld our arguments that no journalist should ever face prison for defamation. It also ruled that criminal defamation laws should only be used in restricted circumstances, and ordered Burkina Faso to change its criminal defamation laws. Read more about the case.

    In 2014, we first intervened at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Granier v. Venezuela concerning broadcasting license restrictions on Venezuelan broadcasters Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined, in 2015, that the government of Venezuela had denied RCTV’s license because they were critical of the government. The Court concluded that the state’s action contravened Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights that guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

    MLDI also developed a law clinic with Oxford University and Zagreb University enabling law students to be involved in filing applications to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The clinic worked on cases concerning detained journalists and activists in Viet Nam and Myanmar. The clinic now runs with students from Edinburgh University law school as well.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 64

  • 2015

    2015

    In 2015 we embarked on our five year strategy ‘Building on Strength’ which aims to facilitate high quality legal defence, ensure a high impact of our work and build partnerships.

    For the first time the proportion of cases concerning online and digital media overtook traditional media cases. To meet the demand we deepened our work on freedom of expression online and digital rights.

    Building on our training curriculum, we carried out our first East Africa Litigation Surgery, training 12 lawyers from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The workshops focused on freedom of expression and developing knowledge of international human rights mechanisms.

    We obtained a judgment from the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) in Burundi Journalists Union v. The Attorney General of the Republic of Burundi. Although the results of the judgment were mixed, the EACJ clarified that it does have jurisdiction to consider cases where there has been a violation of the right to freedom of expression, therefore opening up new avenues to access justice. Read more about the case.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 56

  • 2016

    2016

    In our eighth year MLDI awarded our 500th grant – to a case in Tanzania about a section of the Cyber Crimes Act relating to ‘false news’.

    We also achieved a surprising victory at a domestic court in Russia in the case concerning online news outlet 7x7. The website was charged with ‘abusing the freedom of mass information’ for repeating that a war monument was known locally as ‘dames roasting a crocodile’. With victories for the press being increasingly rare in Russia, the judgment of the Supreme Court was particularly significant for us. However, the situation for journalists in Russia continues to be a challenging one. Read more about the case.

    On 25 May 2016, award-winning Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova was released from prison in Azerbaijan. Read more about the case.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 58

  • 2017

    2017

    2017 was our busiest year to date, supporting more cases, strategic litigation and partners than ever before.

    By the end of 2016, the Turkish government had used a state of emergency law to order the closure of at least 189 newspapers, television and radio stations, publishers and news agencies. In response to the political situation in Turkey we deepened the amount of support we provide. We supported a number of individual cases and funded three different partner organisations based in the country to strengthen the defence available to independent Turkish media.

    In the Gambia, following the departure of ousted former President Yahya Jammeh, we seized on the opportunity to expand press freedom in the country. We held workshops in the Gambia to help lawyers, journalists, activists and campaigners to navigate and challenge existing laws that threaten freedom of expression in the country.

     

    Number of new cases supported: 85

  • 2018

    2018

    Last year we achieved some important judgments such as in FAJ v the Gambia at the ECOWAS Court. We supported the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar who was facing sedition charges and 43 years in prison over a series of tweets – the charges have now been dropped. We also supported a case that achieved a positive outcome for well-known Montenegrin investigative journalist Tufik Softic who was awarded damages after Montenegrin authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into two violent attacks – one outside his home and another involving a bomb.

    We have continued to strengthen our network of media defence partners and have started to work with partners in Honduras, Pakistan, Poland and the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

    Last year we also began a digital rights and freedom of expression online training programme aimed specifically at strengthening the defence available to online media across Sub-Saharan Africa.

    With 188 ongoing cases and a growing network of 15 funded partners providing legal defence in their respective countries, we are continuing to strengthen the quality and amount of legal defence available to independent media.

    Number of new cases supported: 98

     

    10 years in numbers