HI – Respect Freedom of Expression and Tackle Disinformation


Humanists International emphasized the importance of OSCE states to repeal laws criminalizing the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and misinformation and to respect the fundamental right to the freedom of expression.

They made the call at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting II (SHDM) on Freedom of Expression, Media and Information held online from June 22 to 23.  Advocacy Officer for Humanists International, Lillie Ashworth, took the time to explain the importance of freedom of expression in moments of crisis and extremity in which governments should, as Humanists International reported, “ensure transparency and access to quality, diverse and independent sources of information as a precondition to protecting public health.”

Repressive laws criminalizing the spread of fake news have been used to arbitrarily detain, arrest, and harass critics of governments, health professionals, and journalists. All this is in violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression on the part of state forces who should be the first forces to protect and enshrine the rights rather than oppress individual citizens using them.

Most of the cases have been false accusations of individuals accused of “spreading panic” while, in fact, they were at the forefront of reporting on the failures to contain the spread of the coronavirus by state actors or heads of government. They could point out a lack of ventilators, or PPE and intensive care beds.

Within the OSCE region, Armenia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and other state actors have been rather oppressive in these domains, for these reasons, in restriction of the fundamental human right to freedom of expression. Humanists International released a statement on the issue covering the idea that criminal law is not an appropriate manner in which to combat “rumours and misinformation,” while these merely serve to revoke the freedom of speech rights from individual speakers (akin to the aforementioned); thus, this keeps the wider population in a struggle to maintain verbal autonomy and expression of popular and unpopular opinions equally.

 “Only by upholding an environment free from punitive censorship laws are individuals empowered to think critically and practice safe self-governance in a manner consistent with public health,” Humanists International stated, “When it comes to fighting fake news and misinformation narratives during the Covid-19 crisis, Humanists International’s approach has consistently been to emphasise access to clear and accurate information, and to encourage critical thinking and a healthy degree of scepticism when encountering information online.”

Indeed, at the Closing Session for the SHDM, Humanists International’s call was taken up, as a discussion on the construction of OSCE guidelines was put forward for tackling disinformation with concomitant respect for the freedom of expression.

Full Humanists International statement here.

With files from Humanists International.

Photo by Daniel Sandvik on Unsplash

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