Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression (AI)

All people must have the right to say what they think, share information and demand a better world.

The digital world gives many more of us access to the information we need, including to challenge governments and corporations. Information is power and the internet has the potential to significantly empower the world’s seven billion people.

The solution: What is Amnesty International calling for?

• Prisoners of conscience around the world should be released immediately and unconditionally

• All laws criminalizing people who speak out or protest peacefully, should be struck off the law books

• Laws against hate speech or other incitement to discrimination and violence must not be used to repress peaceful dissent

• People should have access to information, and the power of governments and companies to obtain information about individuals and organisations must be restricted

Freedom of speech, or freedom of expression, applies to ideas of all kinds, including those that may be deeply offensive. While international law protects free speech, there are instances where speech can be legitimately restricted under the same law, such as when it violates the rights of others, or, advocates hatred and incites discrimination or violence.

Any restrictions on freedom of expression must be provided by law, protect certain public interests or the rights of others and, be clearly necessary for that purpose. A free press reporting on the issues that interest us and shape our lives is a key building block of any rights-respecting society.

Freedom of expression also underpins other human rights such as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, allowing them to flourish. Governments have a duty to prohibit hateful, inciteful speech but many abuse their authority to silence peaceful dissent by passing laws criminalizing freedom of expression. This is often done in the name of counterterrorism, national security or religion. More recently, freedom of expression has come under threat by authorities clamping down on activists, NGOs and individuals helping refugees and migrants.

Amnesty International supports people who speak out peacefully for themselves and for others, whether a journalist reporting on violence by security forces, a trade unionist exposing poor working conditions or an indigenous leader defending their land rights against big business. AI would similarly defend the right of those who support the positions of big business, the security forces and employers to express their own views peacefully.

Our voice matters. We have the right to say what we think, share information and demand a better world. We also have the right to agree or disagree with those in power, and to express these opinions in peaceful protests. Exercising these rights without fear or unlawful interference is central to living in an open and fair society, one in which people can access justice and enjoy their human rights.

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Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression (AI)

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