The Right to be Silenced? BPE Submission To 2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting In Warsaw

By • on October 6, 2012


OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Working Session 1

Fundamental Freedoms I

Freedom of Expression

Warsaw, September 24, 2012

The Right to be Silenced?

BPE refers to a statement made by the International Civil Liberties Alliance at the HDIM 2009 with respect to freedom of expression. At the time, ICLA noted that “new challenges to freedom of expression emerged, not least from non-state actors. Under the guise of “religious sensitivity”, they [continue to] advocate finding some “compromise” between religion and our right to say, draw and print whatever we consider important. […] In particular, organizations of a fundamentalist religious viewpoint seek to block and ban expressions contrary to their worldview or potentially damaging to their status.”

We note in this context that even before latest riots both in the Muslim world and in OSCE participating States, the situation concerning freedom of expression had deteriorated markedly. There are clear signs that participating States, especially west of Vienna, are toying with the idea of limiting freedom of expression, for instance by adding dangerous wording such as “there can be no limitless freedom of expression” or “freedom of expression comes with responsibility”, thereby shifting the blame for rioting and deaths onto the messenger rather than leaving it where it belongs, on the perpetrator. We consider this unacceptable and strongly condemn this course of action. Instead, we reiterate the recommendation made by ICLA in 2009 that

  • in order to protect freedom of expression, all blasphemy and hate speech laws be repealed and instead ordinary criminal law deal with criminal offenses; and
  • participating States reassert the right of their citizens to exercise their freedom of expression that they act more pro-actively to protect this right, in particular by effectively countering any attempt to stifle it.

BPE, along with ICLA, continues to be of the firm conviction that no compromise on freedom of expression is desirable or even possible. Freedom of expression is a fundamental feature of a free society. We therefore call on the governments of the participating States to defend this, and not to enter into meaningless compromises. We also remind OSCE and participating States that freedom of expression means freedom to utter statements which others may despise, and freedom to express even the most despicable views. It thus follows that governments cannot and must not pick and
choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent. They must remain neutral towards the content of expression.

In the wake of the current riots after a movie became public, one wonders whether there were certain interests at the root of these protests. It appears that there are groups who have an open interest in the curtailing of freedom of expression while hiding behind the veil of freedom of religion. We remind participating States that it is freedom of expression that makes freedom of religion possible.

Deeply concerning in this regard is the statement made by an imam from of one of the largest mosques in New Jersey, who has declared that anyone criticizing Islam is a direct threat to the United States national security. He believes that “America should disregard its First Amendment…and instead act in accordance with sharia law for the ultimate ‘good’ of

Individuals, says Alan M. Dershowitz in a commentary, have the right to pick and choose which expressions to condemn, which to praise and which to say nothing about. The international community – in this case, the ODIHR – must use its collective power to apprehend and punish anyone who commits violence in reaction to expressions with which they disagree. Being offended by freedom of speech should never be regarded as a justification for violence.2

  • BPE rejects the marginalization of freedom of speech by depicting it as a form of religious intolerance.
  • BPE will continue to actively defend freedom of expression because we genuinely believe in it.
  • BPE reiterates that there is no need for any restriction on freedom of expression. It is sufficient for ideas to be defeated in the marketplace of ideas. Truth does not need censorship to defend it.
  • BPE believes that no discussion, however frank or honest, can be considered an attack against individual adherents of a faith.
  • BPE deplores the use of “peer pressure and shaming” (the phrase used by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when speaking about ways to curb “denigration of a religion”). Sounding a lot like intimidation, this is not language befitting any representative of a government.3

Recommendation to ODIHR

  • BPE has repeatedly asked for clarification of terms. In this context, we once again look forward to a concise legal explanation of the difference between “anti-Muslim discourse” and criticism of Islam as well as a definition of the term “Islamophobia”.
  • Is there any evidence that member states of the OIC, which according to its statutes considers itself the collective voice of the Muslim world, including OSCE participating State Turkey, show any tolerance towards other religious groups? We recommend that ODIHR look into this as a matter of urgency.

PDF on OSCE website

Other BPE submissions on OSCE website

Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa (BPE)

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