Court upholds NGO's 'deep state' registered name ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Tallinn circuit court decision from last Friday, overruling an early Tartu County Court decision which had deemed
Tallinn circuit court decision from last Friday, overruling an early Tartu County Court decision which had deemed "Süvariik" a morally inappropriate name for an Estonian non-profit. Source: ERR

A court has gone back on an original decision to deem a non-profit organization inappropriately named. The non-profit, MTÜ Süvariik, which would literally translate to "deep state" in English, was initially found to be an inappropriate name for a non-governmental organization (NGO). However, a later circuit court ruling found that the original court decision had not clearly defined the term or proven adequately that the chosen name was morally inappropriate or contrary to good morals.

Facts of the case

Original ruling

  • On September 13 2019 the non-for-profit applied to register the "Süvariik" name with the registry department at Tartu County Court. This was declined on October 18, on the grounds that the name was not in accordance with the Non-profit Associations Act
  • The Tartu County Court assistant judge ruled that the name was contrary to moral ethics, and as such an NGO by law cannot be so named.
  • The county court claimed the term "deep state", a literal translation of the term, has negative connotations and includes allusions to groups, organizations, geographical areas or individuals who are not subject to regular state power and operate under their own laws. 

Circuit court overrules county court

  • The appellant's legal counsel Robert Sarv, reportedly presenting the founders of the NGO rather than the NGO itself, then filed an appeal against the ruling, asking the county court to annul the negative entry ruling and send the matter to the registry department of Tartu County Court for a new review.
  • The appellant claimed the term "deep state" does not have the same meaning as "state within a state" (Estonian: "riik riigis") and vice versa. These are different terms which the registrar had, to the detriment of the appellant, freely interpreted, the appellant claimed, adding the Tartu court had not proven that the name had negative or immoral connotations.
  • The second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court overruled the original Tartu County Court judgement on Friday, June 12 2020, annulling the contested registration and ordering it to be sent for review to the registry.
  • The circuit court agreed in principle with the appellant's view that the county court had misinterpreted the meaning of the term "state within a state" as published on online open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia (link in Estonian-"riik riigis" has an Estonian wikipedia entry whereas "süvariik" does not at the time of writing-ed.), in its interpreting the meaning of the term "deep state". 
  • The circuit court found the county court should have precisely defined the terms, and had misinterpreted the term "deep state", making it incorrect to conclude the name applied for by the appellant was unsuitable and inappropriate for an NGO.
  • The circuit court also agreed with the appellant that the county court had failed to substantiate the contested ruling to a substantial degree. 
  • Neither Institute of the Estonian Institute-published "Eesti keele seletav sõnaraamat" dictionary, nor other dictionaries published in Estonian, define the word "süvariik" in a consistent manner to render the NGO's name as morally abhorrent, the court found.

Merriam-Webster defines the English term "deep state" as a noun, and: "An alleged secret network of especially non-elected government officials and sometimes private entities (as in the financial services and defense industries) operating extralegally to influence and enact government policy."

Meanwhile the Cambridge English Dictionary deems it as being: "Organizations such as military, police, or political groups that are said to work secretly in order to protect particular interests and to rule a country without being elected."

Estonia's court system is organized on three tiers, with county courts on the first tier, followed by the circuit courts and the Supreme Court at the top.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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