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ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship applaud prime minister's promise to implement proposals respecting free expression

(ARTICLE 19/Index on Censorship/IFEX) - The following is a 26 October 2007 joint statement by ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN:

United Kingdom: Free Speech organisations applaud 'sea change' from PM
ARTICLE 19, English PEN and Index on Censorship welcome the Prime Minister's commitment, set out in yesterday's speech on liberty, to implement many of the proposals in our joint ten-point plan for an open government, published in June.

Gordon Brown's promise to respect and extend freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the public right to know marks a sea change in government attitudes towards these fundamental rights. We applaud the decision to drop the deeply unpopular and retrograde fees regulation, which would have severely limited freedom of information requests, and the proposal to consider widening the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. We also commend the decision to review the restriction to the right to protest outside the Houses of Parliament.

We note that Jack Straw has been commissioned to investigate the idea of a freedom of expression audit on future legislation, to ensure that the pursuit of new policy objectives such as combating terrorism and tackling hate crime does not 'curb legitimate liberties to speak and be heard.' However, it is not only new legislation which curbs these liberties. The presence of antiquated offences such as criminal defamation, sedition and blasphemy makes Britain a laughing stock in the international community, whilst the Official Secrets Act and Terrorism Acts continue to curb 'legitimate liberties to speak and be heard' on subjects of public interest.

We look forward to participating in the consultations now taking place, and welcome the chance to tackle these and the other restrictions on freedom of expression which we have already called on Gordon Brown to address.

Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship says: 'This is a rare and exciting opportunity to create a truly open society and to roll back some of the misguided legislation of the Blair years.'

Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, says: 'Britain can now take the lead in upholding the fundamental right to freedom of expression. This will give British writers the confidence to explore their own society, and will add to the pressure on foreign governments to protect their citizens' right to speak freely.'

NOTES TO EDITORS
- ARTICLE 19 is an international human rights organisation which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information all over the world.
- English PEN is the founding centre of an international fellowship of writers, with 147 centres in 104 countries, promoting literature and freedom of expression.
- Index on Censorship is an organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of expression and the free flow of information.

ARTICLE 19

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