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“At this historic juncture, Governments must choose reform over repression”, state UN expert on World Press Freedom Day

The following statement was released by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2011).

2 May 2011

We commemorate the World Press Freedom Day* this year against the backdrop of extraordinary events in the Middle East and North Africa. People from all walks of life, in particular the youth, have peacefully and collectively stood up against decades of oppression and denial of basic human rights.

I commend and stand in solidarity with these courageous individuals, including journalists, bloggers, and activists, who have risen above fear to express their legitimate grievances and to demand reforms, democracy and transparency, using at great risk their freedom of expression and new information communication technologies.

At the same time, I am deeply shocked and saddened that thousands of individuals have lost their lives, and journalists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders in particular continue to be targeted in countries such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen. I extend my condolences to the families of the victims and urge authorities to immediately stop any further bloodshed. I call on the international community to respond urgently and effectively to these human rights and humanitarian crises.

I believe that we are currently in a historic moment. Never in the history of humankind have individuals been so interconnected across the globe. Social networking platforms have given individuals the means to share and disseminate information in “real-time”, and have played a key role in the recent demonstrations. As one activist tweeted during the protests in Egypt, “we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”

Indeed, the Internet has become an essential tool to exercise the right to freedom of expression, a topic which is discussed further in my next report to the United Nations Human Rights Council to be presented on 3 June 2011.

At the same time, the power of the Internet to awaken individuals to question and challenge the status quo and to expose corruption and wrongdoing has generated fear among the powerful. As a result, Governments are increasingly censoring information in cyberspace and, in some cases, disconnecting users from Internet access entirely.

Such censorship measures are often combined with age-old tactics of harassment and intimidation, arbitrary arrests, torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment, enforced disappearances and even killings – not only to directly silence dissent, but also to generate a climate of fear within society. I remain deeply concerned about such practices around the world, and in particular the continuing persecution of journalists, bloggers and activists covering the ongoing demonstrations.

On this World Press Freedom Day, I would like to remind all States that the strongest governments are those that allow democratic participation of citizens, and diverse views to be expressed openly. The events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that it is never a viable long-term option to suppress the voices of the people. They have also served as a reminder that the role of the Government is to serve the people, not those in power.

I therefore call upon all Governments to choose reform over repression, to embrace diverging views, to listen to the people, and to build a strong society based on the consent of the governed, whose freedom of opinion and expression must be upheld.

ENDS

(*) 3 May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. It is a day to commemorate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

For further information on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm
For press inquiries and additional information regarding the visit, please contact Ms. Momoko Nomura (Tel: +41 22 917 9304 / email: Mnomura@ohchr.org)