[JURIST] The UN warned [press release] in a report [text] Friday that government restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet impinge on human rights. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text] outlines the types of restrictions that would be considered breaches of party states’ obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of expression. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank LaRue [official profile] provided examples of governments restricting, controlling, manipulating and censoring Internet content without any legal basis. LaRue suggested that, because of the unique features of the Internet, governments have increased restrictions on Internet use out of fear of mobilization and rapid dissemination of information. The report suggested that Internet restrictions stifle other fundamental rights:
The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights.
LaRue acknowledged that there are some exceptions to the right to freedom of expression, namely types of expression that infringe on the rights of others, like child pornography, hate speech and defamation.
LaRue called on Algeria [press release] in April to “guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression” including decriminalizing defamation, but praised government efforts to provide Internet access [JURIST report] to eight million through libraries and public centers. In January, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for Hungary to amend its new media law [press release; JURIST report] that had caused outbreaks of public protests in Budapest and Vienna. The law had been harshly criticized by members of the media [JURIST report], as well as other European governments, as too restrictive of free expression. In December, the National Assembly of Venezuela [official website, in Spanish] passed the Social Responsibility Law [text, PDF, in Spanish; JURIST report], which bans Internet content that promotes unrest among citizens or challenges legally established authorities. The US State Department (DOS) [official website] in March 2010 released its 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials] and the DOS criticized China [JURIST report] for its increased Internet censorship. The DOS reported [materials; JURIST report] in March 2011 that the same trend continued through 2010.