Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives you the right to find out information, and to express yourself too.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act (1998) also guarantee this right.
What is free speech?
For most people, free speech means being able to:
- say or write whatever you like
- create art that expresses your ideas
- create internet content like a meme or social media post which expresses any ideas or opinions that you like
- take part in peaceful protests and demonstrations
It’s really important that people have free speech because it allows us to say what we think and to speak out against things that are wrong.
You have the right to find out about what is going on in the world and to hear other people’s ideas, so that you can form your own opinions and make decisions about what you think is right and wrong.
Human rights organisations believe freedom of speech is vital for a society to work well, because you should be able to criticise your government and other organisations if they aren’t doing a good job.
This can go beyond just your personal rights too. News organisations and journalists have a really important job in reporting what is going on in the world so people can find out about it. Social movements and protestors should be able speak out when they think something is wrong and needs to change, or to highlight when something is wrong in society.
When freedom of speech is not respected
In some places and at some times in the past, people have been punished by their government for saying things that the government thinks are wrong. In countries where human rights are not respected, you might see that the government doesn’t allow news organisations to run unless they are controlled by the government.
An organisation called Reporters Without Borders makes a list ranking every country for how they respect the freedom of news and media.
Governments who don’t respect human rights sometimes try and censor academics and universities who publish research that is not compatible with what the government thinks, as well as groups of people who organise and protest the government.
In some places, this can include arresting people and putting them in prison.
If you want to find out more, Human Rights Watch report on how governments are restricting freedom of speech around the world.
So, I can say anything I want?
Not quite. There are limits to freedom of speech, in the UK these limits are set out in the Human Rights Act (1998) and a variety of other laws and common law.
Your free speech may be restricted (i.e. you could be arrested and prosecuted) if you:
These free speech laws apply to things that happen online as well as offline.
Free speech laws can be controversial, because it is easy for a law to be used by a government to suppress views they do not agree with.
Free speech laws can also be interpreted different by different people, depending on their perspective and interests. Groups like Liberty monitor free speech cases in the UK.
Check out more information about your rights.