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

Top Trends: COVID-19 and Civic Space

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on Friday, March 6, 2020. (Photo: Office of Tom Wolf/Flickr)
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a parallel crisis for civic space. Many of the emergency ... Read More

The Law Affecting Civil Society in Asia

UNSR meeting with civil society and human rights defenders on Asia issues in March 2019 (Photo: Jeff Vize)
Made up of more than 40 countries, Asia defies easy categorization. On the one hand, ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: Anti-Mask Laws, COVID-19, and the First Amendment

Woman wearing a medical mask outside during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: EVG Photos/Pexels)
Face masks are in the news. The CDC now recommends that Americans wear face masks ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: COVID-19 and Civic Freedom

A close up picture of the coronavirus (Photo: CDC/Unsplash)
The United States is in the midst of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. All 50 states, ... Read More

Overview: Critical Infrastructure Bills in the US

An Alaska pipeline (Photo: Jim Black/Pixabay)
Across the country, communities are gathering at rallies and marches to express concerns about pipelines’ ... Read More

Future Trend Report: Emerging Technology

Colorful code on computer monitors (Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash)
This briefing explores the trends in emerging digital technology most likely to shape civic space, ... 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.