by Gareth Morgan
14 Jul 2011
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will host a multidisciplinary meeting next week exploring the UK’s policy towards freedom of expression on the internet.
The first meeting, which will be led by Jeremy Browne, minister for state at the FCO, takes place on 20 July. It will include representatives from human rights campaigners.
Internet access has become a defining feature of the Arab Spring protests – a wave of revolutions and protests in the Arab world – with several regimes blocking citizens’ internet access in an effort to quell protests.
That has resulted in widespread calls from human rights campaigners for governments to acknowledge the critical role the internet plays in people’s lives.
In early July 2011, the UN-affiliated Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called for internet access to be treated as a fundamental human right.
‘Some governments already recognise access to the internet as a human right. This trend should be supported as a crucial element of media freedom in the 21st century,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, an OSCE’s spokesman.
The UK government has recognised the increasing importance of internet access, even if it lacks a formal stance on whether it counts as a human right.
In a parliamentary written answer, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government were committed to supporting people’s right to access – and express their views on – the internet.
‘[We] will continue to encourage states that restrict access to online media to uphold their international human rights commitments,’ he said.