Free speech and its limitations

There’s a lively debate about free speech going on at the moment, spearheaded it seems by the unlikely bedfellows of the Independent and the Daily Mail.

The Indie’s beef is about new proposals that could give the government greater control on what can and can’t be reported when it comes to terrorism trials and alleged ‘plots’. It’s an interesting one, particularly when you read Sunny Hurndal’s counter-argument on Liberal Conspiracy today.

The other ‘champion’ of free speech is Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, who has been arguing on the Today Programme and in the Guardian that free speech is under threat from the Human Rights Act. You can read his argument here and Geoffrey Robertson’s riposte here.

But what I wanted to highlight today was a story that’s been little-reported so far, about far-right groups, mainly based in Italy, using Facebook to propagate racial hatred towards Roma people. According to the EU Observer site, the groups have names such as “Let's burn them all", "Turn gypsies into fuel" and "Useful work for gypsies: testers of gas chambers". Coming the day after Armistice Day, it’s sad to see that some of this kind of bile wasn’t totally defeated in the Second World War.

Freedom of expression is a qualified right – it’s legitimate to put some limitations on it in order to protect other rights. And to my mind, promoting the killing of an ethnic group is a prime example of where free speech can and should be curtailed.

Sadly, racism towards Roma people is rife in Europe and Italy is a serious offender. Earlier this year, proposals were introduced to fingerprint all Roma people in the country in a knee-jerk response to a “security crisis”. Mob justice was also visited upon Roma settlements, which were burned to the ground. Amnesty’s done a lot of work on the persecution of Roma in Europe – read more about it here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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