#OffOn – Don’t switch off our online rights

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”117686″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]As you may have seen from our social media feeds and our website, Index on Censorship is working to ensure MPs and the public are aware of the unintended consequences that may arise from the UK Government’s planned Online Safety Bill.

The Bill is based on the ‘duty of care’ concept, which underpins health and safety law in the workplace. However, there is a huge difference between protecting workers from workplace injury and protecting citizens from harm on the internet at the same times as protecting our fundamental freedom of expression rights.

The Bill has introduced the concept of ‘legal but harmful’ and would give social media platforms the power to remove content that could be considered ‘harmful’ to some people. But who makes that decision? Governments, private companies, an algorithm? Who decides when an idea is harmful but remains legal? Where would we be if the suffragettes had been considered harmful? Where would we be if Pride marches had been considered harmful? Where would we be if the civil rights movement had been considered harmful? This is a fundamentally flawed concept.

We already have laws against child abuse, against hate speech, and against death threats – what we need is not more legislation, but more training and resources for the police and relevant organisations to tackle these crimes. The risk with the Online Safety Bill is that not only are these resources not given to tackle issue of child abuse, but that more freedoms and rights are taken away from people and our democracy threatened.

The EU are now developing their own online legislation along the lines of the Online Safety Bill with their Digital Services Act. Across the world, the dominance of social media is generating real issues for regulation and, particularly, in considerations of who is responsible for what is posted online and what is liable to be taken down. Determining the answers to both of these questions is not a simple process with no simple answer but considerable pitfalls for democratic rights. Failing to answer these questions in hurried legislation is a poor substitute for a considered response to what are legitimate concerns.

Over the next few months, Index will be working with European organisations to raise awareness of the ‘unintended consequences’ of the Digital Services Act that will hopefully also help to inform the debate here in the UK. The internet is worldwide, borders are irrelevant, and we have to ensure that vulnerable and marginalised voices are not erased from our societies. The internet is our new Wild West, but we must be careful of knee-jerk reactions that aim to do some good but end up restricting the freedoms we all value.

We have launched the #OffOn campaign to tell MEPs not to switch off our freedoms online and instead to protect fundamental freedoms of expression while strengthening the rule of law relating to criminal offences.

The aims of this campaign are to:

  • Preserve what works and fix what is broken

The internet is still a formidable network that connects and empowers people. Preserving and enhancing fundamental rights must be the cornerstone upon which any legislation is built.

  • Limit online regulation to addressing illegal content

Ensure that the process of judicial review is at the core of any adjudication mechanism.

  • Support user empowerment and wider participation

Legislation should focus on putting users first by allowing them to have more control over the content they see, the ability to remain anonymous online, the right to end-to-end encryption and the right to be faced with proportionate and fair content moderation practices.

  • Ensure due process and legal certainty

The rules applying to the online environment should offer the same due process safeguards as those that apply offline. Arbitration about the legality of content, or its use, often entails long and careful assessments by courts offline, while unrealistic turnaround times are imposed online for the same type of decisions. We must protect the careful balance of the rights at stake, as well as create an environment of legal certainty.

  • Promote these principles in international discussions

The principles and objectives we endorse should not apply only to Europeans – they should be at the centre of the EU’s contributions in any discussions in multilateral and bilateral fora it participates in.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index launches report looking at the real-world effects of Slapps on journalists

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Today Index on Censorship is publishing “Slapped down: Six journalists on the legal efforts to silence them”, a report that includes the testimonies of journalists from across Europe, who have faced legal threats and actions as a result of their work.

“What the report shows is the ease with which the law can be used to intimidate those who are reporting in the public interest,” said senior policy research and advocacy officer Jessica Ní Mhainín, who has been leading Index’s Slapps work. “It demonstrates the impact that is has on journalists, both personally and professionally, and the chilling effect it can have on the press freedom more broadly.”

The publication of Index’s report coincides with the publication of “Protecting Public Watchdogs Across the EU: A Proposal for an EU Anti-SLAPP Law”. The proposed law is endorsed by 60 organisations, including Index on Censorship. If implemented, it would ensure that Slapps are dismissed at an early stage, that litigants would have to pay for abusing the law, and that Slapp targets would be provided with support to defend themselves.

“As it stands, whether or not an investigation about a powerful or wealthy entity comes to light relies in large part on a journalist’s courage and the good-will of the media outlet publishing their work. Are they willing to risk being sued?,” said Ní Mhainín. “Why are we allowing the fulfilment of such an important public service to be a potential risk? Why are we not providing more support to those whose work is so critical to our democracies?”

“We need an EU anti-Slapp directive to protect these watchdogs, whose work helps to hold the powerful to account and to keep our democratic debate alive.”

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Appeal on EU leaders before 6th South EU Summit to be held in Malta

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107234″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]EU leaders from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are urged to address the ongoing impunity in the case of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

To: Mr Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Mr Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy; Mr Nicos Anastasiades, President of Cyprus; Mr Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece; Mr António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal; and Mr Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain.


13 June 2019

Your excellencies,

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta by a car bomb on 16 October 2017. There is no process inquiring into the circumstances of the murder. We, the undersigned organisations, have advocated extensively for justice in the case and are closely monitoring the process on the ground.

A report on the assassination, titled “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”, by the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Pieter Omtzigt, was adopted by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee meeting in Paris on 29 May 2019.

The report highlights a series of concerns relating to the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and Malta is requested to establish an independent and impartial public inquiry within three months to determine whether the state could have prevented the assassination – a call we have made repeatedly. The Committee noted fundamental weaknesses in Malta’s system of democratic checks and balances, seriously undermining the rule of law. This is an alarming situation, particularly in a Council of Europe and European Union member state. The Maltese authorities are called upon to take steps to end the prevailing climate of impunity.

So far, the Maltese government has blocked a public inquiry, leaving journalists continuing to work in Malta at great risk and forcing Galizia’s family to litigate the Prime Minister’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the assassination. Only a public inquiry can determine how best to guarantee the safety of journalists and prevent future attacks. The Venice Commission Opinion on Malta states Malta’s positive obligations in relation to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A public inquiry is the only process that can effectively address these positive obligations. The call for a public inquiry is supported by a resolution by the European Parliament which requests the Maltese government to launch a public inquiry, and calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to initiate an independent international public inquiry into the murder and the alleged cases of corruption, financial crimes, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion reported by the journalist.

By signing the Sibiu Declaration, you have pledged to safeguard Europe’s democratic values and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to address the matter of safety of journalists and ongoing impunity in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in your meeting with Prime Minister Muscat in Valletta on 14 June.

Thank you for your attention.

Kind regards,

Dr Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19

Annie Game, Executive Director, IFEX

Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship

Ravi R. Prasad, Director of Advocacy, International Press Institute (IPI)

Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1560437482746-8cffafe9-48c7-1″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Nine international organisations urge EU officials to raise Turkey’s freedom of expression crisis during EU-Turkey high political dialogue

21 November 2018

To the attention of:

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Ms Federica Mogherini,

EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Mr Johannes Hahn,

We, the undersigned organisations, urge the addressed European Union (EU) officials to discuss Turkey’s freedom of expression crisis and fractured rule of law during their high-level political dialogue with the Turkish government on 22 November 2018.

More than 160 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey today, with hundreds more on trial for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In 2018, the World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey as 157 out of 180 countries, on the basis of the level of freedom available to journalists. Since 2016, Turkey’s position in the index has progressively decreased from 151 in 2016 and 155 in 2017. Journalists and media outlets are mostly targeted on charges of affiliation with, membership of, or propaganda for a terrorist organisation, charges mostly linked to the attempted coup of July 2016. Despite the lifting of a two-year-long state of emergency on 18 July 2018, and its replacement with similarly restricting legislation, such attacks are still taking place. Just last week, on 16 November 2018, in a targeted operation against civil society,13 people including academics, journalists and lawyers were arrested on suspicions of similar charges, some of whom were subsequently released under judicial control.

Following the attempted coup in July 2016, the Turkish authorities cracked down on independent press and journalists, resulting in widespread closures of media outlets, dismissal of 10,000 media workers and mass prosecutions of journalists. The Turkish judicial system has thus far failed to provide redress in these cases, a further sign of the deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) response to this situation has been weak until now: focusing on the need to exhaust domestic remedies as a principle of admissibility of cases before the Court, and failing to fully recognise the impact of the repression of which Turkish journalists and civil society are the victims. Where ECtHR rulings on journalists have been made they have been blatantly ignored and not implemented by the Turkish authorities. Newly introduced legislation in Turkey, dovetailing in many cases provisions concerning purportedly temporary and exceptional measures introduced under the state of emergency in order to respond to the attempted coup, also casts a shadow over respect for human rights in the country.

We remind you that pursuant to the Treaties, the European Union’s “aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples” and that “in its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests”, including contributing to the protection of human rights. Given the mandate of your roles within the European Union’s system, we urge you to include the above-mentioned issues at the heart of your conversation with the Turkish government during the high-level political dialogue planned in Ankara on 22 November 2018. In particular, we request you to engage with Turkish authorities with a view to agreeing on concrete actions aimed at the protection of journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey, for the respect of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey. Finally, we demand that the EU stresses the need for Turkey to concretely improve its respect for the rule of law and human rights, as a prerequisite for a further deepening of the EU-Turkey relationship.

Yours sincerely,

Article 19

International Press Institute

European Federation of Journalists

Index on Censorship

Reporters Without Borders

Pen International

English Pen

Norwegian Pen

Articolo 21


Mr Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee European Parliament Rue Wiertz Altiero Spinelli 15G205 1047 Brussels

Mr David McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee European Parliament Rue Wiertz

Altiero Spinelli 15G205 1047 Brussels

Mr Christian Berger, Head of EU Delegation in Turkey Büyükesat Mahallesi Uğur Mumcu Cd. No:88 06700 Çankaya/Ankara Turkey