Free Speech Debate

Thirteen languages. Ten principles. One conversation.

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1We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.»
2We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.»
3We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.»
4We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.»
5We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.»
6We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.»
7We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.»
8We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.»
9We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.»
10We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.»

What’s missing?

Is there a vital area we have not addressed? A principle 11? An illuminating case study? Read other people's suggestions and add your own here. Or start the debate in your own language.


We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

If our first draft principle is the basic principle, our final one is a kind of meta-principle. It says we must be free to challenge all limits on free expression. That is a procedural claim. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No


  • FSD US Army

    National Security: Sample our intellectual buffet. Or make your own meal.

    Timothy Garton Ash introduces a sample tour of the content on our site.

    August 31, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Salman Rushdie: 25 years after The Satanic Verses thumbnail

    Salman Rushdie: free speech, 25 years on

    25 years after the fatwa and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Salman Rushdie discusses with Timothy Garton Ash whether there is now more or less freedom of expression in Europe, worrying developments in India and his critical view of Edward Snowden.

    August 30, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 3469305764_3e732b4ca8_b-620x412

    Your comments highlighted

    We regularly highlight comments from our users. In the last six months we have had quite a few insightful comments, contributing to our online debate.

    August 29, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Blasphemy Laws in Europe thumbnail

    Should Europe introduce a ‘right to blaspheme’?

    Alain Bouldoires talks to Timothy Garton Ash about the survival of blasphemy laws in Europe, and calls for a 'right to blaspheme'.

    August 18, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 2014_Hong_Kong_new_year_march_10

    Vote for Hong Kong – on the streets and online

    In 2014, the citizens of Hong Kong staged an unofficial civil referendum in protest against the Beijing authorities’ attempts to undermine its independence. As Rebecca Wong reports, the majority of the votes were cast via a voting app on mobile phones.

    August 11, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • technology_computer_surveillance_032014thinkstock

    Imported Repression in the Middle East

    A leaked document in June 2014 from Egypt’s ministry of the interior invited tenders for cyber-surveillance technology to combat blasphemy, sarcasm and ‘lack of morality’ - the technology would likely come from the west. Max Gallien reports.

    August 1, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 11646712403_d59f515289_z

    Should ISPs be told to block “adult” content?

    Internet Service Providers do not merely route data packets from end-to-end, but are heavily involved in monitoring their customers’ online activities. Ian Brown discusses the implications of Britain's suggested “voluntary” opting out of “adult content”, with little parliamentary and court involvement.

    July 15, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Russia swearing

    Profanity, purity and politics — the battle for the Russian language

    A law banning swear words in the arts in Russia has come into effect in July 2014. Maryam Omidi discusses the implications.

    July 7, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Al Jazeera

    Egypt: will the United States stand up for free speech abroad?

    Not if John Kerry’s visit to Cairo and the next day’s verdict in the Al-Jazeera trial are anything to go by, writes Max Gallien.

    June 30, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • 4606341298_ce0e5a94c0_z

    EU versus intellectual freedom?

    In a bid to synchronise hate crimes, the EU is seeking unity amongst members states against the denial of historical injustices. Is this the EU versus member states’ appreciation of intellectual freedom? Luigi Cajani explains.

    June 19, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Bassem Youssef

    Egypt: the show is over

    Bassem Youssef and the Egyptian struggle for freedom of speech.

    June 10, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • FSD 12248961183_0e6d46ec7b_z

    National security and privacy: striking the balance

    Anthony Lester and Zoe McCallum discuss the need to balance national security and privacy in the age of internet surveillance.

    May 21, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Russia

    The world through the eyes of Russian state television

    Robert Coalson looks at how Russian television depicts everything from the crisis in Ukraine to the war in Syria.

    May 7, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Ecuadorlastlaugh

    In Ecuador, cartoonist gets the last laugh

    Kim Wilkinson looks at an unusual order to ‘correct’ a cartoon, and the cartoonist’s clever reply.

    April 20, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • cartoon protest

    Why Yale UP did not publish the Danish cartoons

    John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, explains and defends his decision not to include illustrations in Jytte Klausen’s book.

    April 18, 2014 | Comments: 3

More discussions

Case studies

  • FSD CS Twitter

    14 year-old’s Twitter prank leads to arrest in the Netherlands

    A prank by a 14 year-old Dutch girl on Twitter prompted both her arrest – and broader questions about free speech, as Max Harris discusses.

    June 25, 2014 | Comments: 2
  • Cheetahs in Tanzania (Photo by Ward Graham under a Creative Commons License)

    How an attempt at ‘libel tourism’ rebounded on a Tanzanian tycoon

    A British citizen blogged about a Tanzanian media magnate involved in throwing her and her husband off their Tanzanian farm. He sued for libel in a British court. Dominic Burbidge explains.

    June 5, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • David Cameron

    Britain’s proposed online porn filters

    How do we strike the right balance between freedom of expression and child protection? Sarah Glatte explores a proposal by the British government.

    December 18, 2013 | Comments: 7
  • Members of the English Defence League march in Luton

    When and where should extremists be allowed to march?

    Protests held by far right groups in ethnically diverse areas are provocation, but banning them can have undesired effects. Josh Black looks at a ban on the English Defence League in East London.

    May 29, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • A Kenyan reads a burnt copy of the Standard newspaper at the printing press in the Kenyan capital Nairobi

    “If you rattle a snake…” The Kenyan government bites its media

    In 2006 the Kenyan police violently raided the offices and printing press of the Standard Group media organisation. What was the government afraid of seeing reported? Dominic Burbidge explores a revealing case.

    March 5, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • 6125014507_831e1cc19e_z

    Brazil confronts Google – and it’s personal

    A top Google executive was arrested in Brazil when the company refused to remove YouTube videos that made accusations against a local mayoral candidate. Felipe Correa discusses the case.

    November 1, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Students in Singapore

    A university of less-than-liberal arts?

    Should Yale University refuse to operate in Singapore where human rights and free expression face significant restrictions? Katie Engelhart weighs the arguments for and against.

    October 14, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi

    Satire or sedition? Political cartoons in India

    Indian Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was recently arrested on sedition charges. Manav Bhushan discusses how an archaic section of India's penal code has been used to silence government critics.

    October 3, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Wang Xiaoning

    Yahoo, free speech and anonymity in China

    In 2002 Wang Xiaoning was sent to prison for 10 years after Yahoo passed on personal information Chinese authorities used to identify him. Judith Bruhn explores a case of conflicting laws and moral expectations.

    October 1, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Pussy Riot

    Pussy Riot, Putin’s Russia and the Orthodox Church

    Was punk band Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin performance in a Moscow church 'religious hatred hooliganism' or an artistic form of political dissent? Olga Shvarova considers the case.

    August 9, 2012 | Comments: 9
  • 'Hitler and the Germans Nation and Crime' Exhibition In Berlin

    Hitler’s Mein Kampf as satire

    The German comedian Serdar Somuncu recites extracts from Mein Kampf to highlight the absurdity of Hitler’s propaganda, writes Sebastian Huempfer.

    July 13, 2012 | Comments: 3
  • TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Japan-NKorea-educa

    The Japanese New History Textbook controversy

    A history textbook underplaying Japanese imperialism caused controversy domestically and internationally, write Ayako Komine and Naoko Hosokawa.

    July 13, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Russian weapons specialist Igor Sutyagin

    The case of the Russian ‘spy’

    Igor Sutyagin, the Russian nuclear researcher sentenced to 15 years for espionage, found himself at the centre of a spy-swap deal in 2010, writes Olga Shvarova.

    July 10, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • The President Of The Republic Of South Africa Makes A State Visit To The UK

    Zuma and his spear

    A South African art gallery removed an explicit painting of President Jacob Zuma after pressure from the African National Congress, write Nimi Hoffmann and Maryam Omidi.

    June 25, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Muslims Around The World Celebrate Eid al-Fitr

    The Iranian actress’s sex tape scandal

    A leaked sex video resulted in Iranian actress Zahra Amir Ebrahimi fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, writes Fatemeh Shams Esmaeili.

    June 12, 2012 | Comments: 6

More case studies

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.