The Netherlands calls for greater protections for freedom of expression
‘Freedom of expression and media freedom are fundamental human rights, not only for journalists but also for society itself. They enable people to form their opinions in freedom and participate in the public debate. A democratic society cannot exist without freedom of the press.’ Foreign minister Frans Timmermans spoke these words today on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, established by the United Nations in 1993 to promote and raise awareness of press freedom around the world.
The Netherlands is head of the Freedom Online Coalition, a body it founded in December 2011. The Coalition is a cross-regional partnership of 19 countries, including the US, Sweden, Costa Rica and Kenya, which seeks to promote online freedom so that the internet remains free and accessible for everyone. From 16 to 18 June Mr Timmermans will take part in the third Freedom Online Conference. The conference will be held in Tunisia, a country where the internet played a crucial role in the transition to a more democratic society. The minister characterised the conference as a good opportunity to spotlight the issue of internet freedom in the region as a whole.
In many countries, violations of press freedom are a daily occurrence. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, 47 journalists have been killed while trying to report on the situation there. Journalists in Somalia, a country where Islamist militias operate, risk their lives every day to document events in that part of the world. In the past six years, 11 journalists from the independent Radio Shabelle have been killed. Unfortunately, this is a global trend; over the past year, a record number of journalists, bloggers, cyber activists and other people working in media were killed, imprisoned or assaulted for what they wrote or said. Mr Timmermans warned that the culture of fear this creates has far-reaching consequences for the freedom of expression.