Freedom of expression must be guaranteed

Freedom of expression must be guaranteed

Sarajevo, September 8, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Mladen Dragojlovic

OSCE Mission in BiH organized on Wednesday and Thursday an expert  workshop on “Freedom of Expression on the Internet and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism” (VERLT), which was supported by BiH Ministry of Security.

The main conclusion of this event, in Sarajevo, is that laws and policies on content blocking, surveillance and other online measures to counter terrorism must also safeguard the fundamental right to free expression online.

Some 120 participants representing governmental authorities, international organizations, academia, civil society and media met to discuss and share best practices related to online measures taken by governments and intermediaries to counter VERLT and their implications for fundamental human rights. Participants explored how the use of communications technologies can advance efforts to counter VERLT on the Internet.

The BiH Minister of Security, Dragan Mektic, underlined that the biggest threat related to misuse of the Internet is the unobstructed and limitless spread of the terrorist ideology and propaganda.

“We are aware of the complexity of the problem, and it is clear that the biggest role in the prevention of these illegal activities should be played by governmental structures, especially national cyberspace regulators and security services. They have the task of protecting citizens from all threats, including those coming from cyberspace, Mektić said, adding that in addressing these threats, basic human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and democratic values must be respected.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, stressed that national security concerns are on many occasions used to restrict freedom of speech online, contravening OSCE commitments and international standards for the protection of human rights. She urged governments to look for other solutions, highlighting the need to facilitate credible counter-speech.

“We should not be willing to compromise on the idea of the Internet as an open, free and secure place for communication. Free expression and new technologies should be looked upon as tools to counter terrorism and not as a restraint in the fight against it”, Mijatovic said.

Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, Ambassador Jonathan Moore, emphasized that violent extremism is a comprehensive problem which societies and communities must prevent at its early stages.

“In the modern world, understanding the Internet and traditional media both as tools for violent radicalization and as a means of presenting alternative views through counter-messaging are key aspects of this approach”, Moore pointed out.

The workshop was organized as a follow-up to a similar OSCE workshop in Bucharest last year on media freedom and responsibilities in the context of counterterrorism policies. The workshop in Sarajevo will also produce guidelines and recommendations that will be published on the conference webpage.