The Right to Freedom of Expression

The desire for freedom of expression and the right of assembly are fundamental to the human condition. People denied them are at best frustrated and at worst oppressed. They provide the basis not only for personal fulfilment, social relationships and creative achievement but also for just law and democratic society.

Democratic society cannot function without an active commitment to freedom of expression which enables citizens to access and exchange information, share ideas, form judgements, communicate opinions, promote causes and thereby participate in their governance. Moreover, the freedom to express minority or dissident views is not only a test of democratic government but also, through their contest with orthodoxy, the means by which values are affirmed or amended and social progress is made.

For these reasons the guarantee of freedom of expression has been at the heart of all the great declarations of the rights of citizens from the Enlightenment to the present day.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 10 December 1948

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Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

European Convention on Human Rights
incorporated in the UK Human Rights Act 1998

union-jackArticle 10: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas witeu-flaghout interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…

Article 11: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests…

US Bill of Rights 1791 First Amendment to the Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen 1789

france-flagArticle 10: No-one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, providing their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

Article 11: The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may accordingly speak, write and print with freedom but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, adopted 27 June, 1981

African CharterArticle 9 (1) Every individual shall have the right to receive information. (2) Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

Article 10: (1) Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law. (2) Subject to the obligation of solidarity provided for in Article 29, no one may be compelled to join an association.

Article 11: Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.


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