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International experts call for a "crime against free expression"

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 25 June 2012 - Today, 25 June, International experts mandated by the UN, African Union, Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will jointly call for all governments to create a new category of 'crime against free expression' in response to the increasing number of attacks against journalists, media workers, bloggers, human rights defenders and others targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The category of crime against freedom of expression will warrant higher penalties, on the ground that crimes against those exercising their freedom of expression undermines the right to know of all, and affect societies as a whole.

The Joint Declaration on Crimes Against Freedom of Expression of the four international experts on freedom of expression outlines states obligations to fight impunity for attacks against freedom of expression and identifies steps that the states must adopt in order to prevent these crimes, protect the victims and investigate the crimes effectively when the violations occur. It includes recommendations to set up specialised investigatory units and to create specialised protection programmes, based on local needs and challenges.

“In too many countries around the world, journalists, including citizen journalists, and human rights defenders are killed, wounded, abducted, threatened and harassed by government officials or non-state actors for providing vital information to communities and societies. In too many countries, Government and the international community are doing little to halt such crimes which not only violate the individual's rights, but also create an environment of censorship. As such, a crime against freedom of expression constitutes a crime against society as a whole,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 executive director.

“We wholeheartedly welcome and support the Special Rapporteurs call for the establishment in every country of an aggravated crime against freedom of expression. Such a crime would force reluctant governments to always start with the question 'was this person targeted for what they said' thus ensuring that perpetrators would be sanctioned not just for violence against one person, but for violence against society,” she added.

The 2012 Joint Declaration provides a valuable guidance to states and the international community at a time when incidents of violence and other attacks on journalists, media workers, human rights defenders, users of social media and others are on the increase. ARTICLE 19 has been campaigning for the end of impunity for these crimes around the world. For example, ARTICLE 19 has been instrumental in advocacy for legal reform in Mexico that led to the introduction of “crimes against freedom of expression” and the creation of specialised investigative units.

The four international special rapporteurs on freedom of expression are Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States; and Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

The 2012 Joint Declaration is being released at a press conference in Port of Spain, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on the occasion of the International Press Institute (IPI) annual conference.

ARTICLE 19 has been coordinating the drafting of these Joint Declarations since 1999.

Read the declaration

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