Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
World Press Freedom Day: High Commissioner statement
02 May 2023
Freedom of expression is not just a fundamental human right, it is the lifeblood that nourishes healthy and vibrant societies.
Without freedom of expression, we cannot challenge injustice, spark change or engage in the debates that make us fundamentally human.
We cannot hold those in power to account.
Without freedom of expression – a great enabler of all our other rights – there is very little freedom at all.
‘Regardless of frontiers’ – this was the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it affirmed our right to freedom of expression and access to information.
But as we mark 30 years of World Press Freedom Day, all around the world, we are seeing the forceful closure of those frontiers and an alarming and aggressive trend towards the shutdown of freedom of speech.
And although journalists are some of its most critical conduits - equipping the world with information and facts - we see a new normal where they face mounting threats.
A new normal of outright silencing of the people who work to inform, expose and hold those in power to account.
Through defamation, censorship, routine media shutdowns, arbitrary arrest, or direct online and physical attacks on them, their friends and their families.
Women journalists, in particular, often work in fear of violence and harassment.
In 2022, 87 journalists were killed, the vast majority with impunity. A record 323 were imprisoned.
These are intolerable statistics.
Journalism is not a crime, yet an artillery of new laws and lawsuits tell a different story.
Under the guise of criminal cyber-libel, anti-terrorism, cybersecurity, and “fake news” laws, more than ever, governments can stifle journalists and conceal inconvenient truths.
Restrictions on freedom of expression must be the exception.
And they can be.
With stronger national legislation, that puts human rights first. With better monitoring of threats against journalists, and better legal and psychological support provided to them when harms occur.
And, crucially, with systematic investigation and prosecution of crimes against journalists.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is our guardrail. As we celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, my Office will devote the month of May to celebrating critical voices and debate, to ensuring the safety of journalists and to protecting the civic space.
In January, I called on Governments to release all people arbitrarily detained, whether for exercising their rights or by contravention of their rights, including journalists and human rights defenders jailed for doing their essential work.
I repeat that call today.
Every threat to a journalist is a direct attack on freedom of information, opinion and expression – fundamental rights that belong to all of us.
The safety of journalists is not just a question of personal security, it is a question of the safety and health of entire societies.
It is a moral imperative – for the future of all of us – that we do everything possible to protect it.