Freedom of expression is a human right recognized by key international human rights instruments including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right may be exercised through any medium. Therefore, freedom of expression, and a state's obligation or commitment to ensure this right, applies online as well as offline, said U.S. State Department Attorney Adviser for Human Rights and Refugees Sabeena Rajpal.
Speaking at a recent Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe human dimension meeting, Ms. Rajpal said, "Fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, do not change with new technologies. Like all human rights, the right to freedom of expression inheres in the individual; it is not for governments to dole out or deny as they see fit."
It is up to governments to nurture and preserve an environment in which freedom of expression, as well as other fundamental freedoms, may be exercised by their citizens. According to the United National Human Rights Committee, "Free, uncensored and unhindered press or other media. . .constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. . . .The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential.”
Often governments will enact laws that are overly broad and vague, open to abuse for political purposes, or are lacking the judicial oversight of implementation by independent, impartial courts. Examples of cases that have had the potential to endanger freedom expression in OSCE member states include recent amendments to Kazakhstan's criminal code, Russia's restrictive laws on the Internet and blogging, and moves by Turkey to block access to social media sites.
The latter restrictions were lifted by recent court rulings, but the U.S. is concerned that Turkish authorities still have considerable discretion to monitor internet activity and remove content the government finds objectionable under their new Internet law.
"The U.S.," said Ms. Rajpal, "will continue to raise concerns. . .about legislation and/or government action that have the potential to undermine our shared commitments to freedom of expression."
The U.S. calls on participating OSCE states to meet both the letter and spirit of their commitments to protect and promote the freedom of expression and media freedom and to reject or repeal measures that unduly restrict freedom of expression.