Freedom of expression

Throughout the world individuals face harassment and imprisonment as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas without fear or interference.

This right is important for the personal development and dignity of every individual and is vital for the fulfilment of other human rights.

Freedom of expression has always been a core part of Amnesty International’s work and is closely linked to the right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Amnesty International has campaigned on behalf of thousands of prisoners of conscience – people who are imprisoned because of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.

Stifling debate

Governments have historically used ‘national security’ as an excuse to stifle political opposition and criticism. In recent years, heightened fears about terrorism and security have been invoked to justify increased repression of individuals and groups exercising their right to free expression.

The introduction of more restrictive counter-terrorism legislation in most countries in the world is having a serious impact on freedom of expression and other rights.

Such measures are short-sighted. Open debate and respect for human rights is the only framework within which security and development can be sustained.

Protecting the right to defend human rights

Human rights defenders are individuals, groups of people or organizations who promote and protect human rights through peaceful and non-violent means. Their actions depend on, and fuel, freedom of expression.

Because of their activities, human rights defenders can become a target of abuse. Governments, security forces, business interests, armed groups, religious leaders and sometimes even their own families and communities can try and silence their dissenting opinions or actions.

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons

Everyone has the right to express their sexual orientation, with due regard for the well-being and rights of others, without fear of persecution, denial of liberty or social interference.

However, in many countries throughout the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face discrimination, intimidation, harassment and also attacks to their personal safety.

Homophobic statements by politicians, religious leaders and other prominent persons can perpetuate a climate of discrimination and intimidation against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

New technology, new challenges

The internet has opened up new possibilities for individuals and groups to seek and impart information and ideas. Yet, the internet is also a new frontier where freedom of expression is being challenged. For more on Amnesty International’s work on the Internet and Human Rights go to www.irrepressible.info

Key facts

  • Human rights defenders in many countries throughout the world have been subjected to death threats, arbitrary detention and torture and many have even been killed because of their human rights activism.
  • Between 2000 and 2005 Amnesty International issued more than 400 Urgent Actions on behalf of individuals believed to be at immediate risk.
  • Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered outside her flat in Moscow on 7 October 2006.
  • Seven members of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights were arrested by the police after participating in peaceful demonstrations on 1 May 2007, during which slogans criticising the country’s monarchy were chanted.
  • Lee Si-woo, a photojournalist and peace campaigner, was arrested on 23 April  2007 on charges under the vaguely worded South Korean National Security Law. The charges relate to information he reported as a freelance journalist on the US military presence in South Korea. His news reportage was based on information obtained legally through the government and the military, through Freedom of Information laws.

What Amnesty International is doing

Amnesty International supports and protects those who speak up and express their opinions openly and freely around the world. We do a lot of work particularly with those who speak out to defend human rights for example:

  • journalists exposing human rights violations
  • community workers teaching human rights education
  • trade unionists defending workers' rights
  • women working for the promotion of reproductive rights
  • environmentalists highlighting the impact of development projects on indigenous peoples land rights.

Example of success

Chinese campaigner Wang Wanxing was released in 2005 after intensive letter writing by Amnesty International members.

He had been held at Beijing’s notorious Ankang psychiatric hospital since June 1992 for displaying a banner in Tiananmen Square commemorating the anniversary of the pro-democracy protests of June 1989.  

While at Ankang, Wang Wanxing was forced to take chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic drug, three times a day.

In the last five years of his incarceration he was kept in a ward with between 50 to 70 inpatients with mental health problems.

How you can help

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