Citizens in authoritarian states know what they can read or publish, see or hear. In places such as China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt, semi-free private discussion and small-circulation publishing is permitted. But the dissident talk can’t become opposition action. That is cut off, either at the root or when it appears on the streets, notes John Lloyd, who co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow.
But what to do when liberals are the censors, he asks:
Free speech isn’t a central part of democratic practice by accident. It springs from the view, developed increasingly powerfully over the past five centuries, that challenge to power from contrary opinion and the revelations that investigative research can put in the public domain are vital to a nation’s health. Attempts to suppress these, whether from overheated debates on campus or from overheated tweets from a presidential cellphone, must be opposed – as they are being opposed, in the United States, by the news media and, in the UK, by the state. It is at least heartening that both are willing to step up to their responsibility to protect a precious part of our civic life.
A case in point?
Amnesty International UK’s cancellation of a debate about the UN and human rights in Israel has been condemned as “disgraceful” and in breach of its claim to protect freedom of expression, The Guardian reports:
The panel was to discuss the role of the UN human rights council in Israel, and included a speaker from UN Watch, an organization that is highly critical of UN policies on Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian territories and claims the global body is biased against Israel.
Authoritarians like Ahmadinjead, Assad, Qaddafi, Castro, Chavez have tried to intimidate and silence UN Watch, the group’s Hillel Neuer (above) wrote:
In debates of the UN Human Rights Council, ambassadors from Iran, Syria, Cuba, and the PLO routinely interrupt testimony from victims we bring, and urge the Chairman to rule that I am out of order. I’m used to that by now. Yet never did I imagine that the world’s largest human rights organization would join their ranks.