In the context of a dispute over occupancy of a flat, the applicant wrote an open letter in which he presented his version of the situation, namely that the other party, A., was occupying the flat unlawfully and preventing the applicant from using it. He called on others with a similar problem to contact him with a view to taking joint action. This version was reproduced in a daily newspaper. A. and his wife brought a civil action against the applicant.
The City Court noted that proceedings relating to the right of occupancy were pending and that the applicant had not yet acquired a right to use the flat, as A. was not obliged to leave until he found other accommodation. The applicant claimed that A. did have alternative accommodation. The court found that the truthfulness of the opinions expressed by the applicant had not been proved but were tendentious, distorted and unsubstantiated. It ordered the applicant to apologise in writing for damaging the plaintiffs' honour, to pay damages of 100,000 Slovak korunas (SKK) to each of them, to reimburse their lawyer’s fees and to pay the court fees. The newspaper was ordered to publish an apology and pay damages and costs. The appeals lodged by the applicant and the newspaper were rejected by the Supreme Court.
The applicant complained that his right to freedom of expression had been violated by the decision of the Slovakian courts.
The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
The Court found that the decisions complained of constituted an interference “prescribed by law”, namely Articles 11 et seq. of the Civil Code, and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting “the reputation or rights of others”, thus fulfilling two of the three conditions for being justified under the second paragraph of Article 10. Now, the Court had to establish, whether the interference was „necessary in a democratic society “.
The Court maintained that the purpose of the open letter was not exclusively to resolve the applicant's individual problem: in fact, at the end of the letter the applicant called on other persons with a similar problem to take joint action and expressed the view that the resolution of the problem was important for strengthening the rule of law in the newly born democracy. The letter thus raised issues capable of affecting the general interest, namely the housing policy at a period when State-owned apartments were about to be denationalised. Taking the letter as a whole, his statements do not appear excessive. In fact, most of the events on which the applicant relied had been made public in an earlier newspaper article.
Most importantly, there was a disparity between the measures complained of and the behaviour they were intended to rectify. In particular, the reasons given by the courts do not appear sufficiently convincing to justify the relatively high award of damages. In conclusion, there was not a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the measures applied by the courts and the legitimate aim pursued.