Advocacy statements

The use of ‘offence’ in silencing online journalists

  • Date / 2014
  • Location / Kuwait
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


United Nations Human Rights Council, 26th Session (10th – 27th June 2014)

Panel Discussion on the Safety of Journalists

An attack on a journalist does not only violate that individual’s right to free expression; it violates the rights of others to seek and receive information, it violates a society’s potential and capacity for progress, and it violates one of the core foundations underpinning a transparent and free society.

Free expression, the central tool of journalists, can be undermined by many mechanisms. One that still holds traction, pernicious in its stealthy capacity to silence, is the use of the subjective and mutable notions of ‘offense’ and ‘insult’. Forgetting that respect comes in the form of treating other people’s views as those of autonomous agents and worthy of consideration and questioning, these notions have, in recent times, been used to shut down free expression of online journalists and bloggers, particularly.

For example, a Kuwaiti blogger saw his 10-year prison sentence for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain upheld[1], and a Saudi online editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the grounds that he insulted Islam[2].

Not only do these charges violate the rights of the individuals in question, as enshrined by Article 19 of the ICCPR[3], they inculcate a corrupted societal understanding of the notion of free expression and consequently, a fearful climate for journalists to work in.

We commend resolution 21/12 and initiatives by the Council to increase awareness about the need to ensure the safety of journalists, but argue that their safety can never be guaranteed so long as some states maintain an inherent disdain for free expression. Accordingly, we suggest it is made clear to signatory state parties that the limitations to online expression must conform to the criteria listed in article 19 (paragraph 3) of the ICCPR – limitations, which do not include offense taken or the insulting of ideas.


[1] http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/29/kuwait-10-years-twitter-comments

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27318400

[3] http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

Suggested academic reference

'The use of ‘offence’ in silencing online journalists', Humanists International

WordPress theme developer - whois: Andy White London