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Special rapporteurs call for a "crime against free expression"

Four international experts that have special mandates on free expression are calling on governments to create a special category of "crimes against free expression" that warrants stiffer penalties and removes restrictions on how long after a crime is committed prosecutions can be initiated, reports ARTICLE 19, one of the groups that brought the rapporteurs together.

The four free expression special rapporteurs in the UN, Europe, the Americas and Africa said in a joint declaration that a crime against free expression is "censorship by killing" that undermines the "right of everyone to seek and receive information and ideas."

"Such a crime would force reluctant governments to always start with the question, 'Was this person targeted for what they said?' thus ensuring that perpetrators would be sanctioned not just for violence against one person, but for violence against society," said Agnès Callamard, executive director at ARTICLE 19.

The rapporteurs call for independent, speedy and effective investigations of all incidents involving journalists and they provide detailed recommendations on how to improve investigations. This includes dedicated investigative units and allowing civil society groups to monitor and document such crimes to ensure the legal procedure is impartial.

They condemn the "prevailing state of impunity" for crimes against free expression, noting that it "emboldens the perpetrators and instigators and substantially increases the incidence of these crimes."

They also recommend specialised protection programmes, and training for both law enforcement officials and individuals who may be at risk, especially women.

"These experts have paved the way," said Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which also welcomed the declaration. "Now it is up to governments to implement their recommendations and give them binding force as soon as possible."

"Addressing violence against journalists as a direct threat to our democracies will help bring attacks on media freedom high on all government's agenda. We as international media freedom advocates need to support numerous international and local NGOs working to provide safer work conditions for media," said Dunja Mijatović, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

This year's joint declaration was released on 25 June with the four rapporteurs in person in Trinidad and Tobago at the International Press Institute (IPI) annual conference.

It came just five days after both Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Christoph Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued separate reports calling for greater efforts to protect journalists.

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