Romanian historian had no right to publish sensitive information on religious leader

By Emil Weber

The European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 9 January 2018 against a Romanian civil servant who had released unauthorized information concerning a religious leader which was published by his brother in media.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0) The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Almost 17 years ago, Mr. Gabriel Catalan, a historian working for a state council responsible for studying the archives of the former communist secret police service, released sensitive material which was published by the newspaper Libertatea, signed by his brother.

The newspaper story contained personal information on the then patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church as well as his alleged co-operation with the secret service, according to the archival documents. The headline of the article was: "In his youth, [the patriarch] was probably gay".

When Mr. Catalan entered his job he had signed a confidentiality agreement. The National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) subsequently dismissed him.

The ECtHR backed the Romanian domestic justice which upheld his dismissal. It ruled that the CNSAS's action did not amount to a violation of article 10 of the European Convention concerning freedom of expression.

"Mr Catalan's allegations, which were published in a national 'sensationalist' newspaper, did not participate in an academic debate but were intended more for the 'entertainment' press", the Registrar of the Court said in a press release.

The top European court argued that "certain manifestations of the right to freedom of expression that might be legitimate in other contexts were not legitimate in the [CNSAS] workplace". It said, Mr. Catalan had a "duty of discretion inherent to his post".

"The duty of discretion could not be negated by the public interest in matters arising from the application of law […] or by the access to the Securitate archives", the court said.


Case of Catalan v. Romania, application no. 13003/04. 9 January 2018


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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –