- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
“If we do not believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we do not believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky. This specific right is often considered the ‘essence of democracy’. The right to form an opinion, to hold it, and express it without fear of discrimination, arrest or punishment, is vital for the prevention and abolishment of oppressing and corrupt states. This also applies to the press and media. Freedom of the press enables true, critical coverage of news around the world. This in turn will promote a more informed and engaged population. Democracy relies on its citizens being able to form informed opinions and the freedom to express them. However, many journalists around the world live in fear of being arrested based on their work. In 2020, at least 387 journalists were put in jail. The countries that are responsible for most of the arrests are China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Vietnam.
Also, individuals who are seeking to exercise or promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression experience censorship and silencing. For example, Amnesty International highlights the case of the Vietnamese Tran Hoang Phuc, an environmental and pro-democracy activist who was arrested in June 2017. He was convicted of “propaganda against the state” for the production and dissemination on social networks of a series of videos that were considered critical of the government. He was sentenced to six years in prison, having already spent four years under house arrest. Freedom of opinion and expression is a right that has been used and abused many times throughout history. It has been, and still is, misused to promote hate, division, and discrimination. This was seen during the genocide in Rwanda where the radio station ‘Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines’ (RTLM) used hate speech to spread a negative narrative and perception of mainly the Tutsi people but also the Hutus. The government supported the radio station, and the role the station played in the genocide is believed to be huge.
Written by Nanna Orloff Mortensen and Natalia Colmenar
- 10 reasons freedom of expression is important | Media Legal Defence Initiative (mediadefence.org)
- Press freedom: Journalists end up in jail for reporting on coronavirus crisis | News | DW | 14.12.2020
- Radio_Télévision_Libre_des_Mille_Collines – Genocide Archive Rwanda