IGF 2020 WS #98 Counter-terrorism laws & freedom of expression online


Organizer 1: Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Speaker 1: Andrew Sushko, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Diana Okremova, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Begaim Usenova, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Break-out Group Discussions - Flexible Seating - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Terrorism and extremism pose serious threats to human rights, democracy and social cohesion. States are bound by international standards to protect people from such threats. However, they must not misuse provisions against terrorism and extremism to criminalise opposition and critical voices. How we can overcome situation when such legislation fails to comply with international freedom of expression standards and is also applied in a restrictive manner, often to quell political dissent, thus making it an instrument of state control and censorship? How can a digital environment be created that enables human interaction and communication while ensuring the ability to participate and to access information, freedom of expression, and the privacy and safety of individuals?

We want to bring different perspectives and to discuss how we can protect ourselves from the growing misuse of respective laws and how we can bolster support for normative progress and action in defending our online civic space.


GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


In recent years a disturbing trend has emerged: the increasing abuse and misuse of counter-terrorism laws by States to target not only terrorists, but also civil society and human rights defenders. Our event will bring experts from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to speak on the impact of counter-terrorism, anti-extremism and incitement legislation on freedom of expression online in their country contexts. We will examine relevant legislation, looking at civil society concerns that this broadly written and often arbitrarily applied legislation is being used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict access to information in the public interest. The event will also examine how many convictions under these laws are for posts on social networks and that the number of websites blocked through this legislation is increasing, with independent media and civil society particularly targeted. The contribution aims to generate a comparative discussion in which this legislation across Western, Central, Eastern Europe and Central Asia is reviewed in the broader context with the audience thinking critically about the balance of protecting national security with the obligation to defend human rights, drawing on progressive international standards to do so.

Expected Outcomes

The aim is to raise awareness of the impact of counter-terrorism, anti-extremism laws on freedom of expression online. For those activists attending the event it will provide an opportunity to explore in greater detail how legislation which purports to defend the population in the name of national security is in fact often used to restrict legitimate speech, with a chilling effect on freedom of expression. We also present this discussion as an opportunity to generate and share possible solutions and lessons learnt and to develop relationships in order to act together with activists addressing similar issues in other country contexts. A key part of our work is to advocate for legislative change and change in problematic implementation of legislation and this advocacy is more effective when we act together across the region and put pressure on our governments together, at a national, regional and international level.

We want to start with a short introduction of the issue by each speaker and then interact with the audience in break-out groups, each of which will be asked to discuss a certain question and try to generate answers/recommendations. The idea is to have as much interaction with the audience as possible, instead of a usual panel discussion with a Q&A session.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Civil society should assist the authorities in reviewing the relevant legislation and constructing a clear and positive legal and policy framework so that the right to freedom of expression online can be effectively protected. It is crucial to cooperate with Governments to advance the implementation of applicable international human rights law in this area, including to increase understanding of the standards laid out in the United Nations (UN) Rabat Plan of Action among members of the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders, as well as supporting more informed public discussion on these issues.

Relevance to Theme: Terrorism and extremism pose serious threats to human rights, democracy and social cohesion. States are bound by international standards to protect people from such threats. However, counter-terrorism and anti-extremism laws are often being misused to silence dissent, which undermines trust between society and the Governments. It is important to address the misuse of such laws by initiating the dialogue between civil society and Governments in order to enable a healthy and empowering digital environment, beneficial to all.

Online Participation


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