The right to free expression

Free expression is vital to humanity and the foundation of a free society. It creates the space for the exchange of ideas in the arts, literature, religion, academia, politics and science, and is essential for other rights like freedom of conscience. Without free expression, ideas cannot be tested. Without free expression, individuals cannot make informed decisions.

How is it protected?

Free expression is a universal human right enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “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.”

The right to free expression is also contained in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

The convention, however, also says free expression must be balanced against other rights such as the right to privacy and, in certain cases, can be restricted.

Where do we draw the line?

Index believes that free expression should only be limited where there the speech itself incites violence or where there is a direct and imminent threat of violence being committed as a result of the expression, as articulated largely in the US interpretation of its First Amendment.

“Freedom of expression is not self-perpetuating, but rather has to be maintained through the constant vigilance of those who care about it.” – Index on Censorship magazine, 1972