The Supreme Court on Monday said that it would reserve its ruling to the appeal filed by daily Politis against an injunction forbidding it from publishing contents from the email account of state attorney Eleni Loizidou whose work emails were hacked in 2017 and published online.
The case concerns published emails that showed Loizidou’s excessive zeal in pursuing extradition requests against Russian nationals, some allegedly politically motivated by the prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation. Her correspondence was published by a Russian website and reproduced by daily Politis in November 2017.
Loizidou is suing Politis seeking damages of between €500,000 and €2m, claiming that the newspaper violated her right to privacy and the law on the protection of personal data.
The Nicosia district court also granted, in January 2018, an injunction request by Loizidou, prohibiting Politis from publishing contents from her email account until the hearing of the lawsuit or until another court order was issued.
Politis’ lawyer, Polys Polyviou, told the court on Monday that this was an extremely important case concerning the right to freedom of speech and information. Finding a balance between this and the right to privacy was imperative, he said.
Consideration of such issues always starts with the right to freedom of speech and information, especially if the subject is a matter of the highest public interest, Polyviou said. He argued that the subject of the published emails was a matter of the highest public interest. “It is not gossip or details of personal life or information that does not contribute to public debate,” he said.
Loizidou, he said, is a public figure with very important duties and the issue is not only about her but also the legal service and the Republic of Cyprus itself.
Politis’ articles concerning the matter, he said, were not related to Loizidou’s personal life, but her professional communication on issues of the highest public interest concerning extraditions and whether the legal service was doing Russia’s bidding.
He said that Politis exercised “courageous journalism” which exerts great criticism and raises questions.
The issue, he said, has already been reported by Cypriot, Greek and international media, such as Washington Post and CNN, and concerns Cyprus, Russia and the European Union.
The European Court of Human Rights has allowed in the past the disclosure of important information even though they have been stolen by third parties because the freedom of speech and the right of citizens to information on matters of public interest prevail, Polyviou said. He also said the newspaper was not accused of stealing the material which was available on a Russian website.
Loizidou’s email account in question was basically used for business purposes. Politis did not publish Loizidou’s personal information, he said.
Polyviou argued that the injunction decision did not take into consideration the huge international significance of the matter while the primary importance of freedom of speech was ignored as was public interest.
Restrictions on freedom of speech are only allowed when they are absolutely necessary, he said, calling on the court to annul the decree.
Loizidou’s lawyer, Constantinos Kallis, argued that Polyviou has basically asked them to break the law. “This is the first time I hear a suggestion for the cancellation of a decree so that someone can carry on breaking the law,” he said.
The law, he said, forbids publication of stolen emails and provides up to five years imprisonment. Any annulment of the decree, he said, would mean violating this legislation which bans the publication of private communications for reasons of public interest.
“Public interest requires private communications not to be published, not the contrary,” he said. He said that the staff of the legal service are not public figures.
Having heard both sides, the Supreme Court said it would reserve its decision for a later stage.
The cabinet had appointed an investigating officer to investigate the possibility of disciplinary offenses by Loizidou who was suspended until the probe was completed. Subsequently, the Attorney-General appointed a private lawyer who, after studying all the evidence and the reports of the investigating officer, concluded that three disciplinary charges could be brought against Loizidou. These concerned the alleged dumping by Loizidou of the laptop she was using for business abroad after breaking down without saving information on it and for using her personal e-mail account for business purposes instead that of her work.
The AG had made clear that the alleged dumping of the laptop abroad, had nothing to do with the theft of Loizidou’s emails.
A closed hearing of the disciplinary charges against the prosecutor is under way before the Public Service Commission, which is to make a decision. The decisions of the commission are not made public.