Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression is the bedrock of a thriving civil society. It allows people to formulate and exchange ideas, encourages transparency and accountability, and facilitates the promotion and protection of human rights and civic space.

ICNL works with its global network of partners to strengthen freedom of expression and combat threats to this fundamental right. Restrictive legislation, often justified on the grounds of national security, can limit individuals’ ability to speak their mind, criticize government policies, and report on current events. ICNL helps local partners understand threats to freedom of expression and provides them with tools and assistance to ensure that domestic legislation complies with international law. Our aim is to enable people to share their thoughts and opinions without fear of prosecution or retribution.

Key Resources

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion & protection of the right to freedom of opinion & expression

The UN Special Rapporteur makes recommendations to how to best promote and protect freedom of expression. Part of this includes gathering information relating to violations of this right, as well as discrimination against, threats or use of violence, harassment directed at persons seeking to exercise the freedom of expression. Opinions of the Special Rapporteur are considered persuasive interpretations of existing international human rights law on the freedom of expression.

Restrictions on a Foundational Right

This report outlines the fundamental elements of freedom of expression, including the conditions that must be met to ensure that any effort to restrict freedom complies with international law. It then discusses several national laws and evaluates the extent to which they restrict freedom of expression.

The Right to Freedom of Expression Online in Jordan

This guide outlines the legal instruments governing expressive activities on social media in Jordan. It discusses the laws that apply either directly or indirectly to written and visual online expression and presents information about the technical requirements and policies of social media platforms.

Closing Space in Higher Education

Higher education institutions around the world face increasing limitations on their autonomy. This report explores the ways in which states use legislative, regulatory, and other approaches to close academic space. In examining the ways in which restrictions are applied, the report seeks to help universities and other stakeholders reduce interference and maintain their independence.

Civic Freedoms in the Middle East & North Africa

This 2018 in-depth study assesses the effect of formal and informal restrictions on the viability of civil society organizations in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait, including a focus on freedom of expression. The report is available in English and Arabic.

All Freedom of Expression Resources

India Digital Freedoms Series

Young woman on leather couch working at a laptop while browsing her phone (Photo: Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash)
This report series, researched and written by the Centre for Internet and Society with support ... Read More

Migrant Civic Freedoms and COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa

Migrant Civic Freedoms and COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa
This ICNL analysis examines the impacts of government COVID-19 responses on migrants' civic freedoms in ... Read More

Guidelines for Policing Post-Election Protests in the US

'I Voted' sticker spool on top of a ballot envelope. Stickers have an American flag on them and are in English and Spanish. (GPA PHOTO ARCHIVE/Flickr)
In the face of a potentially contested 2020 US election, there are concerns that authorities ... Read More

Threats to Artistic Freedom in Uganda

National ballet dancers perform at the Rwanda Uganda Business Forum Dinner - Kigali, 11 October 2013 (Paul Kagame/Flickr)
Uganda's recent Stage Play and Public Entertainment Rules threaten to stifle the creative arts by ... Read More

Climate of Fear: Hong Kong’s New Security Law

Protesters in Hong Kong getting arrested by police, July 2020. (Photo: Studio Incendo/Wikimedia)
The passage of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law threatens to upend civic freedoms and ... Read More

Protecting Activists from Abusive Litigation

Protecting Activists from Abusive Litigation
In this report, ICNL presents the first cross-regional survey of SLAPPs in the Global South, ... Read More
Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.