Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right – and paramount to any democracy. For centuries people have died for the right to speak their minds. Today, those who enjoy it tend to forget their freedom is by no means self-evident. Why people – despite history – still have to fight for it.
This very day 70 years back in time, on 5 May 1945, the US army liberated the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen-Gusen in Austria. Two days ago, the UN and media outlets around the globe marked the World Press Freedom Day.
The connection between those commemorations might be well hidden, although it is so very obvious: The concentration camp is one proof of what happens when freedom of speech and subsequently freedom of press surrender. No free media means no democracy, which means no rule of law and this means denial of human dignity.
24 dead journalists in 2015
Freedom of speech and of press is fundamental to our personal freedom. It is granted in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is self-evident to those who don’t suffer from suppression – but it was surely not obvious to the numerous people who died whilst speaking their mind. Reporters Without Borders counts 24 killed journalists this year alone, 158 jailed people of the media and many more injured. 61 journalists died last year.
Amongst those killed in 2015 are the journalists who lost their lives in Paris this January. Charb and Plantu, Wolinski – the French caricaturists IS wanted dead. After the shooting in the “Charlie Hebdo”-offices the world was shocked, millions of people rightly took to the streets to openly condemn the attack on the freedom of press, a democracy’s fundamental pillar.
Those who died unknown
But amongst those killed are also Roy, Sánchez Cerezo and López. Danilo López was working in Guatemala for Prensa Libre, his beats included corruption and the misuse of public funds. On Twitter, he compared corrupt politicians to the mafia. López repeatedly received death threats by municipal authorities. He was gunned down in a park.
José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was the founder of a small Mexican weekly which criticised city authorities and denounced local criminal activity as well as the poor quality of basic services like garbage pickup and the absence of street lights. 22 days after he went missing in early January this year, he was found decapitated.
Avijit Roy was a US-citizen of Bangladeshi origin. He blogged about science, homosexuality, atheism, and free expression and published several books on those issues. Bangladeshi islamists accused him of blasphemy. Roy was stabbed to death as he left a book fair with his wife near the Dhaka university.
Free speech is all but given
Those three killings are randomly picked, but they represent all the journalists who died fairly unknown to the world. They lost their lives in countries where the world doesn’t expect freedom of speech. But that does not make the killings any less shocking – quite on the contrary. They prove that in some places – 70 years after the liberation of Mauthausen – free press is still as non-existent as it was under the Nazi regime.
May the coincidence of the two commemoration days sound as a warning note for today’s leaders and the generations to come: Democracy and a free press are all but given. Freedom of speech is a right many people in this world still need to fight for every day. It is a fight of undoubted importance. And it is a fight that simply can’t be postponed – just as suppressing free speech can never be justified. •••
About our author:
I’m Catherine, UNYANET’s blog manager. We are currently planning a complete relaunch of our blog and we are still seeking people for our new team. If you want to get on board – be it in an executive position or as a blogger – or if you got any questions concerning the project, don’t hesitate to e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org