EU adopts new guidelines on freedom of expression

(Image: Håkan Dahström)

(Image: Håkan Dahlström)

A new set of guidelines laid out by the EU, and contributed to by Index on Censorship, will specifically look at freedom of expression both online and offline, and includes clauses, among others, on whistleblowers, citizens’ privacy and the promotion of laws that protect freedoms of expression.

According to the Council of the European Union press statement, freedom of opinion should apply to all persons equally, regardless of who they are and where they live, affirming this freedom “must be respected and protected equally online as well as offline”.

Significant consideration within the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline, adopted on 12 May, is paid to whistleblowers with the council vowing to support any legislation adopted which provides protection for those who expose the misconduct of others, as well as reforming legal protections for journalists’ rights to not have to disclose their sources.

Reinforcing this, the new guidelines enable the Council to help those, journalists or others, who are arrested or imprisoned for expressing their opinions both online and offline, seeking for their immediate release and observing any subsequent trials.

Member states also have an obligation to protect their citizens’ right to privacy. In accordance with article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the guidelines claim “no one should be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy“, with legal systems providing “adequate and effective guarantees” on the right to privacy. ­­­

The guidelines will provide guidance on the prevention of violations to freedom of opinion and expression and how officials and staff should react when these violations occur. The guidelines also outline the “strictly prescribed circumstances” that freedom of expressions may be limited; for example, operators may implement internet restrictions (blockages etc.) to conform with law enforcement provisions on child abuse. Laws under the new guidelines that do adequately and effectively guarantee the freedom of opinions to all, not just journalists and the media, must be properly enforced.

“Free, diverse and independent media are essential in any society to promote and protect freedom of opinion and expression and other human rights,” according to the Council press release. “By facilitating the free flow of information and ideas on matters of general interest, and by ensuring transparency and accountability, independent media constitute one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the media, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible.”

Read the full set of guidelines here.

This article was posted on May 15, 2014 at

Article 19 publishes guidelines on hate speech and LGBTI people

A policy paper published by Article 19 has provided guidelines to help establish the difference between hate speech and freedom of expression, especially in reference to the use of hate speech against LGBTI people.

By focusing on “international standards and domestic trends countering the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence (“incitement”) specifically, and hate speech more generally,” Article 19 aims to define what constitutes as hate speech as well as making recommendations for the protection of freedom of expression.

The paper comes after human rights advocates, policy makers and the general public demanded clarity as to where the line should be drawn between free speech and hate speech, in particular that surrounding LGBT people.

In a statement on their own website, Article 19 said: “The paper is guided by the principle that coordinated and focused action to promote the rights to freedom of expression and equality is essential for fostering a tolerant, pluralistic and diverse democratic society in which all human rights can be realised, including those of LGBTI people.”

The policy paper points out the need for all “domestic prohibitions” to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics, but that these laws need to conform to international standards on limiting the right to freedom of expression and information.

Through the paper Article 19 hopes to establish clear boundaries “between permissible and impermissible expression” as well as providing guidelines to help others determine what fits into each category. Not only this, but the report will also contribute to “ensuring that all people are able to enjoy both the right to freedom of expression and the right to equality.”

The report also includes a breakdown of the current jurisdiction against hate speech in 36 countries, primarily in Europe, to highlight the difference between the constitutional and philosophical choices that each country makes when drawing up legislation on free speech and equality.

Read the full report here.