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Freedom House launches campaign to defend freedom of expression

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, December 10, 2009 - In response to a growing crackdown on freedom of expression around the world and in honor of U.N. Human Rights Day, Freedom House calls on human rights organizations, democratic leaders, and citizens to join in an international campaign to defend this critical right.

Over the past seven years there has been a steady decline worldwide in freedom of expression, including a relentless assault on independent news media, in both authoritarian states and countries with relatively open media environments and attempts to push back international norms at the United Nations.

"Freedom of expression is under attack in every region of the globe," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "From a troubling increase in violence against journalists and human rights defenders to sophisticated attempts to block and censor the internet, one of our most essential human rights is slowly being eroded. It is time to begin reversing this trend."

A number of legal, economic and political obstacles have combined to create worrisome limits to freedom of expression:

- There have been seven straight years of global declines in press freedom, with negative trends outweighing positive movements in every region in 2008, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa.

- Only 17 percent of the world's inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a fully Free press.

- In influential countries such as Iran and China, media freedom has stagnated amid worsening repression, despite the promising openings suggested by relative freedom on the internet.

- A number of important emerging democracies in Latin America, Asia and Africa have suffered considerable declines over the past five years, demonstrating the fragility of press freedom in nascent democratic environments.

- According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 88 journalists have been killed in 2009 amid a greater level of impunity, a number greatly increased by the recent massacre in the Philippines, the worst single killing of journalists in history.

- A number of countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, and Malaysia have laws that criminalize speech that can be deemed blasphemous or defamatory of religious sensibilities. Although the United Kingdom has recently rescinded a similar law, Ireland passed one just this year.

- Even in established democracies, press freedom can face threats such as that of Italy where the concentration of ownership threatens independent reporting.

- A potent weapon in the new international censorship arsenal is libel tourism. The United Kingdom's plaintiff-friendly libel laws are forcing journalists, researchers, authors, and publishers to self-censor or pay the price.

Freedom House will take the initiative in this international campaign for freedom of expression by working in partnership with organizations around the world to strengthen the enabling environment for freedom of expression at both the local and international levels. In particular, Freedom House will work with partners in efforts to eliminate domestic criminal libel, insult and defamation laws, as well as overly-punitive civil defamation laws and legislation that curtails freedom of expression on the internet.

"In addition to protecting our journalists and human rights defenders, the world's democracies need to step up efforts to protect freedom of expression at home and at the global level," said Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House. "Freedom of expression is much more than just an important personal freedom. The abilities to express and share one's views and to hold leaders to account are the cornerstones of democracy."

For more information, see "Freedom of the Press: 2009"

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