(London) – More than half the world’s citizens (51%) are now living through a freedom of expression crisis, Quinn McKew, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19, said today at the launch of the Global Expression Report 2019/20.
A deterioration of the right to speak and to know over decades has led to an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, with journalists and activists across the world at risk of harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and murder for demanding these fundamental rights, McKew said.
“Voices have power. Bad actors know this and have been eroding people’s ability to use their voices for years,” McKew said. “Now, faced by a global pandemic, we see the ways in which the systematic abuse of those in power has led to a breakdown in trust between citizen and state.
“To protect our futures, the powerful must be brought to true accountability for the way their decisions take away access to basic needs – like clean air, water and food, fair and just conditions of work and health.”
The Global Expression Report shows that 3.9 billion people live in contexts where the rights to speak, know and be heard are routinely violated.
Countries with the largest populations and others with great influence – China, India, Russia, Turkey and Iran – are living in a ‘crisis of expression’, McKew said. Brazil has yet to fall into the crisis category, but has seen a steep and accelerating decline, while countries like the USA are faltering and creating increasingly hostile environments for journalists and activists.
In 2019 alone, 57 journalists were killed, with an impunity rate of around 90%. At least 250 journalists were behind bars at the end of the year, with harassment from security services worsening, sweeping surveillance measures taking hold and internet shutdowns placing blanket restrictions on the ability of millions to access life-saving information.
But the report also makes clear that there is room for optimism. Resistance to repression is on the rise. During the pandemic, influential movements in the USA, Belarus, Hong Kong, Iran and Lebanon and elsewhere have given voice to citizens and vulnerable non-citizen groups alike.
“People are rebalancing power dynamics,” McKew said. “We must demand our rights through protest and civic engagement, both online and offline, to stop these restrictions becoming permanent features of our systems. And we must continue to engage, to question and to participate.”
“States have a choice,” she added. “They can realise that their ability to govern is based on a free and informed citizenry acting as partners in decision-making, or they can go down the unstable path of creeping authoritarianism.”
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- A media briefing will be held via Zoom on Monday 19 October at 08.30 GMT. Guest speakers include Matthew Caruana- Galizia, investigative journalist and son of the assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana-Galizia, and Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. To register for this event, please contact Nicola – details above.