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Freedom of expression at the core of the struggle for democracy

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - London, 11.04.11: ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, Dr Agnes Callamard, and Iranian-Canadian journalist, playwright and film maker, Maziar Bahari, were the two guest speakers at the launch of Human Rights and Democracy, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual report on human rights.

In her speech focusing on Tunisia, Callamard highlighted the important role played by grassroots cyber-activists, the internet, and news outlets such as Al Jazeera in the fight for democracy and freedom of expression in Tunisia and beyond. She also insisted that the Tunisian revolution was the product of ordinary people's deep alienation and lack of dignity. "The Tunisian revolution was the victory of the truly desperate, of those who believed they had nothing left to lose."

"Luckily, freedom's thirst didn't stop at the Tunisian border. Carried by the pictures and reporting of Al Jazeera, spread through videos and blogs posted on Facebook, flashed on Twitter and issued by all forms of social media, the spirit, process, claim and ultimate reality of the Tunis spring has spread around the region. With the 2011 spring revolutions of the Arab world has been born both the reality and perhaps myth of the Internet revolutions," said Callamard at the FCO.

The 2010 Human Rights and Democracy report features 26 countries of concern, with Chad, Eritrea, Yemen and Libya included for the first time. Other countries mentioned include Belarus, Burma, China and Israel. Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that: "A worrying theme across our reporting is the continuing significant restrictions on freedom of expression - 51 reporters were kidnapped in 2010, up from 33 the previous year - and the report documents concerning restrictions to freedom of expression on the internet. This trend is likely to accelerate, given the central role the internet has played in protest movements in the Arab region."

The FCO will be providing updates online every three months to highlight key human rights events and UK actions in each of the featured countries of concern. ARTICLE 19 welcomes this regular reporting which will strengthen the transparency of UK foreign policy and serve as a vital tool as the UK public and civil society broadly assess the government's performance and seek its accountability for this.

To read Dr Agnes Callamard's full speech, click here

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