HRC44 – Item 3 – Freedom of opinion and expression
HRHF oral statement
Background document: Report of the SR FOE on Covid-19 (A/HRC/44/49)
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Human Rights House Foundation thanks the Special Rapporteur for his report, and for his six years of dedication to the mandate. We wish him well for the future.
The Special Rapporteur is right to highlight the important role that journalism plays in a crisis, and the role of independent media especially, which should remain unhindered and uncensored. There is also a special obligation on the state to protect journalists in these moments.
However, he is also right to highlight that the current Covid-19-related crisis has led, in many instances, to an increase in threats against journalists, not an increase in their protection.
In Belarus, where the Covid-19 crisis has overlapped with the period leading up to the Presidential election in August, the Belarusian Association of Journalists recorded the arrests of 13 journalists in one day alone, on 19 June.
Some states have gone even further, using the crisis as a pretext to further suppress freedom of expression.
For example, Russia passed a so-called “Fake News” law last year, long before Covid-19’s arrival. This law was heavily criticised for its vague definitions of “false information” and fears were expressed that the law could be used to further censor critical voices. At the time, however, it was an offence punishable under the administrative code, which prescribed a fine for offenders, whereas the new law adopted in April considers spreading “false information” a criminal offence that may result in a prison sentence. However, Russia has other legal tools that it uses against journalists, with the conviction of Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva on 6 July, guilty of “justifying terrorism”. The case was widely attacked as an “assault on freedom of expression” in the country.
We ask the Special Rapporteur, with states reneging on their obligations around freedom of opinion and expression, what would be his outgoing advice to civil society, in seeking to ensure such rights are better upheld and protected?