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Internet should remain as open as possible – UN expert on freedom of expression

GENEVA (3 June 2011) – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue warned Friday that fearful Governments are increasingly restricting the flow of information on the Internet due to its potential to mobilize people to challenge the status quo.

“In recent months, we have seen a growing movement of people around the world who are advocating for change – for justice, equality, accountability of the powerful and better respect for human rights,” Mr. La Rue said while presenting his new report* on the right to freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet to the UN Human Rights Council.

“However, the unique features of the Internet, which allow individuals to spread information instantly, to organize themselves, and to inform the world about situations of injustice and inequality, have also created fear among Governments and the powerful,” the expert said.

In his report, Mr. La Rue explores key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

While noting that the Internet is a relatively new communication medium, the expert stressed the applicability of the international human rights framework when assessing whether Governments are unduly restricting the flow of information online.

“Legitimate expression continues to be criminalized in many States, illustrated by the fact that in 2010, more than 100 bloggers were imprisoned,” the Special Rapporteur warned. “Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, and to monitor and identify activists and critics.”

“There should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in a few, very exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law,” Mr. La Rue stressed.

“Essentially, this means that any restriction must be clearly provided by law, and proven to be necessary and the least intrusive means available for the purpose of protecting the rights of others,” added La Rue.

The Special Rapporteur also called upon Governments to develop a concrete and effective plan of action to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of the population.

Frank La Rue (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full report: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A.HRC.17.27_en.pdfhttp://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A.HRC.17.27_en.pdf

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Momoko Nomura (Tel: +41 22 917 9304 / e-mail: mnomura@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org