(CN) – Europe’s human rights court said Malta should not have fined a journalist who implied that a politician dead for 30 years had handed out special privileges.
The brouhaha erupted from a letter to the editor that ran in the Sunday Times of Malta in 1994.
Expressing concern about a yacht marina construction project, John Anthony Mizzi’s letter to the English-language newspaper suggested that former Maltese Prime Minister Sir Paul Boffa had granted special permission for the project to proceed, without consulting local communities, after World War II.
Boffa’s son sued Mizzi, whom Maltese courts ultimately required to pay a civil fine of about $1,000.
Mizzi challenged the decision at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights in 2010.
The tribunal determined in its decision that the Maltese courts had read malicious intent into Mizzi’s letter, saying that it lacked a substantially provocative or exaggerated content and tone.
Mizzi was measured in conveying such historic information, the court wrote, adding that damage that may have resulted was not serious, since Boffa had been dead for more than 30 years.
Fining Mizzi for the letter constituted a violation of freedom of speech, according to the seven-judge tribunal.
Malta must reimburse Mizzi for the fine and pay about $12,400 in damages, costs and expenses.