New challenges to freedom of speech

Amnesty International highlights the plights of bloggers while police call for

Amnesty International has launched a campaign asking bloggers to stand up for freedom of expression on the internet. The human rights organisation has issued a call to the online community to show solidarity with those web users who are based in countries where they can face jail just for criticizing the government.

Highlighting the case of Kianoosh Sanjari, a blogger in Iran who was arrested earlier this month while reporting on clashes between security forces and supporters of Shia cleric Ayatollah Boroujerdi,  Steve Ballinger, of Amnesty International, said: “Countries and businesses have failed to respect, protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression, association and privacy, and the rights of human rights defenders.”

“Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege – but it’s a right that needs defending. We are calling on governments to release prisoners who are held just for expressing their peaceful views online, and to stop unwarranted censorship of internet sites and searches.”

A delegation from Amnesty International is attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens which began today.

Meanwhile, in another development raising freedom of speech issues,  senior Scotland Yard officers have submitted a proposal to the Attorney-General that burning the flag of any country during demonstrations should be made a criminal offence. The call for tougher public order legislation, including a ban on demonstrators covering their faces, comes amid concern that the current law is inadequate to deal with emotionally charged incidents involving extremists.

Tarique Ghaffur, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner in charge of policing large incidents was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“There appears to be a growing public perception that policing of demonstrations is unduly lenient. The reason this is a great country is the tolerance of people. If they start to see images of people who seem to be ‘getting away with it’ that starts to erode.”

But some fear erosion of the right to freedom of expression. The Times report Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, as critical of the plans: “The police already have wide powers.”