Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone has a right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet and digital technologies and regardless of frontiers. The exercise of this right should not be subject to any restrictions, except those which are provided by law, pursue a legitimate aim as expressly listed under international human rights law (namely the rights or reputations of others, the protection of national security, or of public order, public health or morals) and are necessary and proportionate in pursuance of a legitimate aim.
Content blocking, filtering, removal and other technical or legal limits on access to content constitute serious restrictions on freedom of expression and can only be justified if they strictly comply with international human rights law as reiterated in Article 3 of this Declaration. Mandatory blocking of entire websites, IP addresses, ports, network protocols or types of uses (such as social networking) is an extreme measure – analogous to banning a newspaper or broadcaster – which can only be justified in accordance with international standards, for example where necessary to protect children against sexual abuse. Content filtering systems which are imposed by a government or commercial service provider and which are not end-user controlled are a form of prior censorship and are not justifiable as a restriction on freedom of expression. Products designed to facilitate end-user filtering should be required to be accompanied by clear information to end-users about how they work and their potential pitfalls in terms of over-inclusive filtering. No-one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author. To the extent that intermediaries operate self-regulatory systems, and/or make judgement calls on content and privacy issues, all such decisions should be made taking into account the need to protect expression that is legitimate under the principles provided for under international human rights standards, including the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability. Processes developed by intermediaries should be transparent and include provisions for appeals. States have a positive obligation to take steps to prevent violent attacks against anyone on their territory. These obligations take on a particular importance when individuals are attacked for exercising their right to freedom of expression online. States must create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all the persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear. When an attack takes place, states must launch an independent, speedy and effective investigation in order to bring both the perpetrators and the instigators to justice. They must also ensure that victims can obtain appropriate and holistic remedies for what they have suffered. Journalists, media workers and other communicators who contribute to shaping public debate and public opinion on the Internet should be recognised as actors who enable the formation of opinions, ideas, decision-making and democracy. Attacks on all who engage in journalistic activities as a result of their work constitute attacks on the right to freedom of expression. In addition, guidelines for the protection of those who gather and disseminate information to the public, including journalists, women’s rights and human rights defenders, should be put in place to ensure their safety. Such guidelines should be formulated with a view to harmonising legislative frameworks, practice, applicable regional and international standards, and law-enforcement processes at national level. Actions should be initiated or intensified to implement such guidelines and best practices through appropriate efforts by states and other actors, including through regional cooperation, and the provision of technical assistance programmes and activities. States should review and reform their legislation related to freedom of expression online and ensure this legislation fully complies with international standards. In particular, criminal defamation, sedition and speech related offences should be abolished, including their application on the Internet. Rights of all to engage in individual or collective expression of oppositional, dissenting, reactive or responsive views, values or interests through the Internet should be respected. Everyone should have a right to use the Internet as a tool and/or platform for a protest action.
Digital rights are under threat everywhere across the African continent at the moment. This is borne out and underscored by a string of influential reports over recent years from prominent regional and global civil society, multilateral and digital rights non-governmental organisations.
The right to freedom of expression is enshrined as a cornerstone of democracy. This is because of its intrinsic importance in informing the public and encouraging debate. Inherent in the right to freedom of expression is the notion of access to information and press freedom. Freedom of expression also underpins a range of other rights, thereby enabling the full realisation of fundamental rights.
This research was commissioned by MISA Zimbabwe as part of its project which was supported under the AfDec Strategic Advocacy Fund. The research assesses the overall status of the right to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. In making this exploration, the paper analyses how laws and policies in the country’s statutes infringe on the right to freedom of expression.