The repression of ideas is under “widespread assault,” according to a new United Nations report on freedom of expression that finds mature democracies and developing nations alike are silencing dissent – and treating words as weapons – to suppress the free exchange of information and ideas.
Internet shutdowns from Uganda to Turkey or China receive special note in the report, for both their frequency and their chilling of free speech, now also at work in an Ethiopia under a state of emergency.
“Censorship in all its forms reflects official fear of ideas and information,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression who authored the report. “And it not only harms the speaker or reporter or broadcaster, it undermines everyone’s right to information, to public participation, to open and democratic governance.”
Kaye’s report reiterates a 2015 declaration by the United Nations, issued jointly with freedom of expression experts, that condemned “kill switch” Internet shutdowns as unlawful.
The report, presented to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, casts a wide net across speech cases that include the ambiguities of anti-terror legislation applied to arrest the political opposition in Kenya or level sedition charges in Swaziland.
Other examples list the prosecution of journalists in The Gambia and their assassination in Sudan, and the Internet cutoffs for citizens of Burundi or Democratic Republic of Congo, but the report also calls the United States to task for its selective Espionage Act use and Europe for its inadequate definitions of hate speech.
Kaye, calling the trends sobering, urges governments to protect independent media and civic space, with special emphasis on digital rights.
The full “Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” report can be viewed here.
Image: AP File Photo