“Freedom of expression is a human right and forms Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression [a foundation for other rights] covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. (The right to freedom of expression wouldn’t be worth much if the authorities also had the right to imprison anyone who disagrees with them.) An effective media also depends on the legal basis that freedom of expression gives the right to function and report freely, sometimes critically, without threat or fear of punishment.
“Freedom of expression is not an absolute right: it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. That said, many other rights which are intrinsic to our daily lives build on and intersect with this protection for free thought and individual expression. Freedom of expression covers everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations in your own home. It’s a fundamental human right which allows for citizens to speak freely and without interference.” Ten Reasons Freedom of Expression is Important, The Legal Media Defense Initiative (UK)
It’s not news that in times of upheaval when confusion reigns, the power elite use that as cover or excuse for violations of human rights and the rule of law. With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw the beginning of this type of abuse relative to the virus when Chinese physician, Li Wenliang, conscientiously sounded an alert and was subsequently arrested and accused of “rumor-mongering” by Wuhan police. According to Worldometer.info, as of today deaths from this virus total 2,081,733. That number would include the good Dr. Wenliang and no doubt underestimates the total since testing is not widely available.
To one degree or another the curbing of the arts and of news articles related to COVID-19 is happening all over the world in both developed and developing nations. Certainly, in my own country (the U.S.), we’ve seen journalists, advisors, and politicians denounced, fired, or banned based on their reporting, advice, or political positions. Just yesterday Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s placed a ban on attendance by reporters at state briefings. Reporters are now required to email their questions one hour in advance of meetings for prescreening by officials.
Earlier this month three Burmese artists were arrested for painting a mural depicting the dangers of COVID-19. “Zayar Hnaung, Ja Sai, and Naw Htun Aung were charged with violating article 295A of the Myanmar penal code, which criminalizes speech that ‘insults or attempts to insult’ religion or religious beliefs. The artists were arrested after painting a mural intended to raise awareness about the coronavirus epidemic.” reports PEN America. The intent of the mural was to urge citizens to stay at home. It depicted the grim reaper, which some Buddhists said looked like a monk. Hence the accusation.
On Monday, the Indian government filed a complaint against Siddharth Varadarajan for reporting on one of Uttar Pradesh’ officials for not adhering to the national public lockdown.
This is by no means a comprehensive report. It is, however, a sad sample of the current state of affairs, especially sad when so many lives are in danger in the most absolute terms and in terms of quality of life.
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