FoRB and Freedom of Expression

In addition to FoRB, freedom of expression is also fundamental for a well-functioning society. Both complement each other and are equally important for the protection of minorities and those with opinions and beliefs differing from power holders. In the context of religious criticism, it is sometimes incorrectly assumed that FoRB and freedom of expression are at odds with each other.

Some states try to resolve this dilemma by creating blasphemy laws, making insult of religious feelings or defamation of religion a criminal offence. When minorities and dissidents express beliefs or opinions, that the majority or power holders find offensive, they might be accused of blasphemy without evidence and due legal process. Often these vaguely formulated laws violate both FoRB and freedom of expression, and end up promoting violence in the name of religion instead of reducing it.

What can be done to maximize the enjoyment of both FoRB and freedom of expression?

The best and most effective way to counter hate speech is not restrictions, but more speech such as public statements of solidarity, fair media reporting and clarifications that can counter negative stereotypes. Freedom of expression does not protect the right to β€œany advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility or violence.”

When does an offensive or shocking statement or speech cross the line and become illegitimate hate speech or incitement to hostility or violence?

The Rabat Plan of Action offers useful guidelines for determining when speech crosses the line and should be criminally prohibited. It underlines the importance of having a very high threshold and taking into account several aspects of the speech: the context, the status or position of the speaker, the intent behind the message, the content, how widely the message is spread and the degree of risk that the message will actually provoke and lead to violent action and discrimination.  For more information, read the Rabat Plan of Action.

The International Commission of Jurists is comprised of up to sixty lawyers (including senior judges, attorneys and academics) dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law. The composition of the Commission aims to reflect the geographical diversity of the world and its many legal systems. For questions about whether a law or regulation meets international standards, please contact ICJ here.