On 25 May 2020, in the United States, George Floyd’s voice was heard for the last time. His horrific murder and his final message - I can’t breathe - shed a harsh light on a reality that far too many look away from. A tipping point was reached. A spark was lit. And the world couldn’t stay silent anymore.
Despite the risks inherent in the present context, millions of people have taken to the streets – first, in Minneapolis; then, in cities across the US; and now, in cities around the world, under the banner Black Lives Matter. All are demanding an end to systemic racism, police violence and impunity. Most protests are peaceful. A few aren’t. In some cases, they are being allowed to take place in safety. In others, they are being violently shut down.
At IFEX we recognize this is a seismic moment in US history. And, as a global network of organisations that promote and defend the rights of everyone to freedom of expression and information, our work is to stress the central relevance of these rights at a time when people everywhere are marching for justice and a better future.
These rights mean people can record the abuse of other rights.
These rights mean people can share information, without fear of retaliation.
These rights mean people can access information, and make informed choices based on it, including at the ballot box.
These rights mean people can organise and participate in protests to build solidarity, express their anger and outrage, and demand change.
These rights mean an independent media are safe to report accurately, sharing information in the public interest.
In short: These rights mean people can hold those in power accountable.
In the US these rights are in serious danger. Not just amidst a global pandemic or the ongoing protests, but also in the run-up to one of the most contentious elections in modern US history. Instances of violent retaliation against free expression by law enforcement, including arrests and attacks on journalists covering demonstrations are on the rise. They follow a worrying worsening pattern of online and verbal harassment and physical assaults on the press in recent elections, political rallies and from the administration itself. All while disinformation and hate speech are rampant in social media and messaging platforms.
Our diverse global network has championed the rights to freedom of expression and information for over 25 years and remains committed to learning from each other, to increasing our impact, and celebrating our differences in order to become better allies for everyone who is fighting to defend and promote human rights around the world.
We will continue to do so, acknowledging our privilege where it exists, and working to address our gaps in understanding.
“All of us at the IFEX network wish to express our solidarity with our US colleagues,” said IFEX Executive Director Annie Game. “One voice may feel powerless, but together we can protect the right to express grievances, assemble freely, access reliable and timely information, fight oppression and demand justice. We’ll keep on defending these rights to take on systemic racism and oppression where it occurs, and work on bringing about needed and lasting change.”