Freedom of Association: Essential Principles

Essential Principles

"(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 20

"Democracy depends on stable, representative institutions. It depends on
the right to organize. It depends on freedom of association."
Lane Kirkland, President, AFL-CIO, 1988

The exercise of freedom of association by workers, students, and others in society has always been at the heart of the struggle for achieving and defending democracy around the world. Without freedom of association, other freedoms lose their substance. It is impossible to defend individual rights if citizens are unable to organize in groups around common needs and interests. Tom Kahn, a noted civil rights and worker rights activist, wrote, "Freedom of expression without freedom of association is the right to speak freely in the wilderness." of expression without freedom of association is the right to speak freely in the wilderness.

Most political theorists consider freedom of association to be essential to the development of civil society and thus to the strength of democracy. Through his exploration of the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville came to believe that the manifold organizations and associations that made up civic life in every community were  "the mother of science" of any democracy, the social development upon which all other progress depended.

Civil society, by organizing citizens outside of state control, also guards against tyranny. Dictatorships typically view free organizations of citizens, and especially trade unions, as threats and target them for repression, takeover, or closure. Totalitarian states go further: they not only destroy all existing forms of free association but also coerce citizens’ participation in state-controlled institutions and mass-mobilization campaigns in order to exert control over the society.

Freedom of Association and Workers' Rights

Freedom of association covers all manners of organizations created by citizens to protect their individual and common or group interests. But it is most commonly defined as the rights of workers to organize in unions and to bargain collectively over the wages and conditions of their employment. It is these rights that have contributed most profoundly to the expansion of liberty and equality in the world (see History)., by leading the great waves of economic improvement in industrialized countries, have broadened the social foundation for democracy itself.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, explicitly protects both freedom of association in general and the right to form and join trade unions in particular (see also section on Human Rights). Even before the United Nations existed, however, the international community recognized the need to protect workers' interests. Leaders at the 1919 Versailles peace conference, which brought a formal end to World War I, responded positively to the proposal by American labor leader Samuel Gompers and union leaders from Europe to create an International Labour Organization (ILO) as a distinct part of the League of Nations. The ILO’s aim was to create basic standards for the fair treatment of workers that all countries would observe and thus create conditions for social peace — it was the precondition that President Woodrow Wilson (and others) believed would make World War I “the war to end to all wars.” The ILO is the only institution to survive the demise of the League of Nations and later become an agency of the United Nations (see also History).

As the American sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset has noted, unions, by leading the great waves of economic improvement for workers in industrialized countries, have broadened the social foundation for democracy itself (see references in Resources). Indeed, by representing the shared economic and social interests of a wide range of groups in society, they tend to break down racial, ethnic and gender divisions and thus expand opportunities for all citizens. Numerous studies, surveys, and scholarly examinations indicate that in democracies, strong trade unions correlate with the free exercise of democratic rights, an influential civil society, and high levels of both electoral participation and economic equality. Although free trade unions today are at times portrayed as economically and politically anachronistic, trade unions are still essential to democratic societies. Outside of religious institutions, they continue to be the largest, most diverse, and best organized associations.

In addition to expanding the scope and benefits for workers within democracies, tree trade unions and independent worker movements have been essential to achieving democracy in nearly all countries where it has been denied, such as Chile, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and many others. Free trade unionists played central roles in organizing resistance to tyranny in Nazi Germany and occupied France as well as in overcoming the great destruction of World War II and rebuilding democracy in postwar Europe. They remain important to the ongoing struggles for freedom from China to Zimbabwe among many others. These and other examples show that despite great risk and repression, workers seek to organize themselves in free trade unions. Once organized, free trade unions strive to overthrow dictatorships, expand democracy, put an end to economic oppression, and distribute wealth more equitably. Not surprisingly, authoritarian governments try to prevent free trade unions from forming and often impose state-dominated unions to control the workforce.

Although free trade unionism and free enterprise are usually portrayed as conflicting ideas, the history of their respective pursuit in democracies, as well as the experience of the ILO, indicate that the two can and do peacefully coexist and can be mutually beneficial. Indeed, free enterprise is unlikely to survive without the economic benefits and social mobility provided to workers by trade unions. By providing a vehicle through which working people can share in the fruits of their labors, unions boost consumption, promote community stability, and support a better quality of life. At the same time, the strictly command economics based on the Soviet model and other collectivist economic experiments once advocated by many left-wing trade union movements have failed. The economies of communist countries have either collapsed or, as in China and Vietnam, workers have been forced to adapt to a hybrid market economy. What is universally true, in both democracies and dictatorships, is that workers have sought to unionize to defend their economic, social, and political interests.


Freedom of Expression: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


In the 16th and 17th centuries, scientists discovering the principles of the heliocentric universe were banned and repressed by the Vatican. What lessons about free expression did European countries learn from these examples? How did these lessons affect the Enlightenment?

How did John Milton’s arguments in Areapogitica effect the debate around freedom of expression? Were his arguments accepted at the time? Why is the essay still viewed as a touchstone in establishing principles of free expression?

Why did Oliver Wendell Holmes change his mind on his own “clear and present danger” doctrine to write “The Great Dissent” arguing in favor of general freedom of expression?

Why do free speech advocates like Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee argue against restrictions on free expression? Are they right that any restrictions lead to more restrictions (see "The Meddler's Itch" in Resources)?


Even in totalitarian countries, one finds examples of individuals who challenge official orthodoxy and seek to find ways to express themselves more freely. What methods have been used by writers and scholars in dictatorships to express dissent or non-conformity? Assign students to find examples of such cases. (One article listed in Resources is by Michael Scammel on the topic of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, which also describes the significance of such books during the Cold War. Another example in Resources is Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” and Liu Xiaobao’s Charter 08 petition.)

Design a scenario based on current events in which free speech is restricted within a democratic country: e.g. Edward Snowden’s releasing or publishing national security information or France’s anti-hate speech statute, among other topics. Discuss different issues around this scenario: Are there legitimate restrictions that might be placed on free speech? What political or judicial traditions, laws, and decisions exist to justify your restriction of speech?  What are recent examples in which there have been restrictions on free speech? Create a debate on one of these issues Organize teams to research this issue in light of previous free speech Supreme Court cases to make arguments on each side (see Cornell University Law School Library’s Supreme Court Collection on free speech issues in Resources).

Google and Yahoo! have agreed to allow their internet search engines to be censored in the People's Republic of China. Bloomberg News has allowed its coverage to be self-censored. Using Resources and other sources, conduct background research on this issue. Answer the question: Should internet sites or news media outlets allow such prior restraint on their products or articles? What reasons do they give to justify such censorship? What have free speech organizations argued to try to convince Google and Yahoo! to refuse such terms for operating in China?



What were the original principles of media freedom in the Netherlands? How did it reflect the different communities in Netherlands at the time? How have violence, recent acts of terrorism, and extremism affected politics in the Netherlands?


Imagine that you are an editor in the Netherlands prior to the Muhammad cartoon controversy in neighboring Denmark and you were given similar cartoons. Organize a class discussion around the topic: Would you publish such cartoons? Why or why not? What if you personally found them offensive? Would you publish them even if you knew they would offend some of the readers? Set up a classroom debate and have different students take turns pretending to be an editor and defending their decisions for or against publication. For the discussion, have students read the Economist’s editorial and special report around the cartoon controversy or Ronald Koven’s “The Meddler’s Itch” (see Resources). Use the activity also to have students explore for additional material on this topic, including materials that explore the issue from an opposing viewpoint.



What role have the free media played recently in Ugandan politics? How effective has it been in providing a balance to the authoritarian power of Uganda's long-time leader, Yoweri Museveni?


President Museveni justifies his long tenure in office and restrictions on freedoms by arguing that they are necessary to prevent a return to dictatorship, such as under Idi Amin. Is this justification legitimate? Develop a position in favor of this argument. How do you justify limits on free speech? Develop a position against this argument that addresses the speech issue.



How has Chinese history affected the Chinese communist regime? Is there a relationship between imperial China and communist China? What countries have experienced similar histories? What factors contributed to the collapse of China’s first republic?

How have authorities in China suppressed freedom of expression at different points in its history? When was there a greater degree of freedom of expression? How did communist China seek to use media and propaganda to strengthen communist rule?

What was the Fifth Modernization advocated by Wei Jingsheng during the Democracy Wall movement? What are other examples of support for freedom of expression and democracy expressed by China’s citizens? How does China’s government successfully  suppress freedom of expression?

How have Hong Kong residents protected their freedoms since the 1997 handover of the British colony to the People’s Republic of China? What freedoms exist in Hong Kong that are not freely exercised in the PRC? How does the PRC try to inhibit freedoms in Hong Kong? Should Hong Kong citizens be able to directly elect their executive?


Using the Resources section and other material, research and organize a class discussion around the demonstrations that took place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities in 1989. What prompted the demonstrations? How were they similar to Eastern European democracy movements? How effectively did the Chinese authorities suppress the Tiananmen Square democracy movement? Do the Tiananmen Square demonstrations support or disprove the thesis that democratic rights are universal?

Using the Economist and New York Times links in the Resources section, review recent government actions to restrict freedom of the press in the mainland and on Hong Kong. What are the practices of the Chinese government to restrict freedom of expression? How do these practices compare to “free” countries in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press surveys.

Many people believe that the internet will be a liberating force in the realm of freedom of expression. Read “Busting China’s Bloggers” in the New York Times OpEd pages. Is the author optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the internet in China?  Examine Freedom House’s recent country reports on China in the 2016 Freedom of the Press and Freedom of the Internet  as well as the Economist’s special report on the internet in China (see Resources). What changes have been seen in the last ten years? How have Chinese authorities sought to control the internet? How effective have they been?

Freedom of Expression: Resources


Essential Principles

The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, Yale Law School. 

Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute. “Supreme Court Collection: Freedom of Speech.”
     [See links to cases cited in History section.]

Economist magazine. See, e.g.:
     Editorial: “Cartoon Wars: Free Speech Overrides Religious Sensitivities.” February 11, 2006.
     Special Report: Mutual Incomprehension, Mutual Outrage. February 11, 2006.

Havel, Vaclav. The Power of the Powerless M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 1979. (Etext.)

Koven, Ronald. “The Meddler’s Itch.”Uncaptive Minds, no. 23 (1993). Ronald Koven, In Memoriam.

John Milton. “Areopagitica: A speech for the liberty of unlicensed pr inting to the parliament of England.” (Etext.)

Rushdie, Salman, “How a Fatwah Changed a Writer’s Life,” New Yorker, September 17, 2012.
     See also Vanity Fair: “How Salman Rushdie Survived theSatanic Verses Fatwah.” April 14, 2014.

Scammel, Michael. “The CIA’s Zhivago.”New York Review of Books. July 10, 2014.

Web Site Resources of Free Expression Organizations
     Article XIX (home page).
     Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
     Freedom House (home page). Freedom of the Press Report: 2016. Freedom on the Net Report: 2016.
Human Rights Web (home page and "Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights").
     International Federation of Journalists (link).
     International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX): A web exchange of 80 free speech organizations.
     Reporters Without Borders: 2015 Annual Report.


Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. "Faced with Radical Islam, Europe Is in Danger of Decay," AEI, November 2006.

Bakker, Piet. "Dutch Media." University of Amsterdam: March 2005.

Freedom House: Freedom of the Press Report: 2016: Netherlands.

Open Society Foundations: “Mapping Digital Media” (January 2012).

“Netherlands Passes First Net Neutrality Legislation,” Free Speech Debate web site, July 12, 2012.

“The Dutch Revolution in Journalism,” Blendle.


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Uganda.
The New York Times: Times Topics: Uganda.

Amnesty International. Uganda Human Rights Page.

BBC: “Would Uganda's Museveni Recognise His Former Self?,” May 7, 2011.

Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper (home page). 

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP): Uganda Country Profile (link).

Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (Uganda) (link).

Freedom House: Freedom of the Press 2016: Uganda.

Human Rights Watch: 2016 World Report: Uganda.

The New York Review of Books.
     “Murder in Uganda” by Helen Epstein. April 3, 2014.
     “Uganda: The General Challenges the Dictator,” by Helen Epstein, April 24, 2014.


Economist magazine. Topics Index: China.See, e.g.:
     “Everybody Who Loves Mr Xi, Say Yes,” November 16, 2013.
     “China and the Internet: A Giant Cage,” Special Report. April 6, 2013.
     “Inequality in China: To Each, Not According to His Needs.” December 15, 2012.
     “Szeto Wah: Goodbye to A Chinese Patriot.” January 3, 2011.

The New York Times: Times Topics: China. See, e.g.:
     “Xi Xinping’s News Alert: Journalists Must Serve Party. February 22, 2016.
     "Fearing Beijing’s Reach After Disappearances.” January 7, 2016.
     "Crowds Gather in Hong Kong for Anniversary of Tiananmen Crackdown,” June 4, 2014.
“Thousands in Hong Kong Support Wounded Editor.” March 3, 2014.
     “Bloomberg News Is Said To Curb Articles That Might Anger China.” November 9, 2013.
     “Busting China’s Bloggers,” OpEd. October 16, 2013.
     “Jailed Chinese Rights Advocate Speaks Out in Video,” August 8, 2013 (video link).
     “Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader,” October 12, 2012.
     “Tibetan Self-Immolations Rise as China Tightens Grip. March 22, 2012.

Binyan, Liu. “Living in Truth.” The New York Review of Books, July 17, 1997 (on Wei Jingsheng).

Jingsheng, Wei. “The Fifth Modernization” (PDF version). East Asia Institute of Columbia University.

Johnson, Ian. “Worse Than You Ever Imagined,” The New York Review of Books, November 22, 2012
     (A review of five books on the Great Leap Forward and famine of 1958-61.)

Link, Perry. “Party Like It’s 1989.” Foreign Policy. June 4, 2012.

Link, Perry and Nathan, Andrew, Editors. The Tiananmen Papers. Public Affairs: 2001.

Mirsky, Jonathan. “How Reds Smashed Reds,” The New York Review of Books. November 11, 2010.
     (A review of books on the Cultural Revolution.)

Nathan, Andrew. “Authoritarian Impermanence.” Journal of Democracy.Volume 20, Number 3. July 2009.

Selected Web Sites
Charter ’08 (home page).
Charter ’08 Manifesto, translated by P. Link, The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009.
    Liu Xiaobo, “I Have No Enemies.” Acceptance speech made in absentia for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
    Liu Xiaobo: Freedom Now campaign site.

Freedom House
     China Media Bulletin (link).
     Freedom of the Press 2016: China.
Throttling Dissent: China's New Leaders Refine Internet Control: Special Report." 2013.
Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China," Freedom at Issue Report. 2006.

Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (home page).
Human Rights Campaign in China (web page).
Human Rights Watch. 2016 World Report: China and China and Tibet Page.
Laogai Museum, Washington, D.C. (link) and Laogai Research Foundation (link).

Recommended Films
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” A documentary on “artistic practice and social activism as seen by China's preeminent artist” (Home Page).
“The Blue Kite,” a film by Zhuangzhuang Tian on the Cultural Revolution.
“The Gate of Heavenly Peace.” A documentary on the Tiananmen Square Protests by Frontline (PBS: 1998). See home website.
“The Big Parade,” a 1978 documentary on the annual military demonstration in Tiananmen Square. Directed by Zhang Yimou.

Freedom of Expression: Country Studies — China

China Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 6.5; Political Rights: 7; Civil Liberties: 6.



China's history has been dominated by repressive royal dynasties or kingdoms, civil wars, military government, and, since 1949, a Communist dictatorship called the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since 1978, the Communist government opened up the country to the global market and allowed for the existence of private property, investment, trade, and business. As a result of these economic reforms, China dramatically increased its GDP, although the economy remains dominated by state ownership and control. The PRC’s repressive political system remains unchanged. China is governed by the Communist Party, which monopolizes all government, legal, social, and state economic structures. Party officials and members control much of the private economy. In 1989, the government brutally suppressed mass demonstrations organized in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and around the country that called for democracy and freedom. Since then, any organized dissent has been met with force, arrests, expulsions, and various other forms of repression and state intimidation. Freedom House has categorized the People’s Republic of China as “not free” and among the countries with the worst record of human rights violations since its annual Survey of Freedom in the World began in 1973. In the area of freedom of expression, the government exercises one of the most comprehensive and repressive systems of control of media, the internet, and speech in the world. The Freedom of the Press Report has also categorized China as “not free” and one of the world’s worst violators of media freedom since beginning in 1980.

The PRC is the world's fourth-largest country in area (9,596,960 square kilometers) and the most populous, with an estimated 1.375 billion people in 2016. There are 56 recognized ethnic groups, the most numerous and dominant one being the Han (approximately 92 percent of the population). Minorities in Uyghurstan and Tibet are severely repressed and face ethnic genocide. In gross domestic product (GDP), the PRC is the world's second-largest economy. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nominal GDP totaled $10.35 trillion in 2014 (second to the US’s $17.35 trillion). Although average income has increased significantly in the last decade, distribution of wealth remains highly concentrated. In 2015, the IMF ranked China 82nd in the world in nominal GDP per capita income at $8,280 per year (the U.S. ranked 5th at $55,904 in PPP measurement.) Transparency International ranks China 79th out of 176 countries and territories in its 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.


The Origins of Imperial China and Achievements of the First Dynasties

Historians date the first dynasty in mainland China, called Xia, to the 21st century BC. The Zhou dynasty (1027 to 221 BC) was the first to claim rule by divine right (the “mandate of heaven”), a doctrine that justified all of China’s successive dynasties over three millennia.

Tiananmen Square

The first to succeed in unifying the six major warlord powers was the Qin dynasty (221–06 BC), which formally begins imperial Chinese history and the use of the term “emperor” for the Chinese leader. Although lasting less than two decades, Qin rulers can claim many of China's early achievements and innovations aimed at consolidating a central state, including the initial building of the Great Wall of China and unifying a system of weights and measures, a currency, a legal code, and the character language. The longer Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) introduced Confucianism, an ethical system elevating ideals of unity, knowledge, and virtue, as the state religion and the ideological foundation of Chinese imperial rule. Subsequent periods of disunity and warlordism ended with the Sui dynasty (AD 581–617), while the longer-ruling Tang dynasty (618–907) integrated Buddhism and Taoism with Confucianism and traditional folk religion.

The Golden Age, Foreign Invasions, and Final Dynasties

The Song dynasty introduced China's Golden Age, but China then experienced two foreign invasions, one from Manchuria (the Jurchen Jin dynasty) and the second by the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty). The Mongols’ rule was overthrown in 1368 by a rebel army led by the peasant Zhu Yuanzhang. Zhu's victory marked the start of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming dynasty adopted neo-Confucianism, an offshoot of Confucianism characterized by scholasticism, xenophobia, and a rigid belief in hierarchy. At the same time, the Ming dynasty broke up feudal estates, encouraged private land ownership, and banned slavery. Small agricultural communities became the dominant producer of food. Ming emperors also developed new industries (such as porcelain and textiles) and finalized the completion of the Great Wall of China. The Ming dynasty ended with another Manchurian invasion from the north, which began the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The Manchus imposed a heavy-handed foreign administration. Only Manchus could serve in the army and administration. Han identity was repressed. Under penalty of death, the Qing enforced the Manchu hairstyle (known for the shaving of hair bald in front with the rest tied in a long ponytail) and dress code (considered today traditional Chinese clothing). But in other ways, the Manchu dynasty ruled according to previous Chinese imperial principles and adopted hierarchical neo-Confucian norms.

The End of Imperial Rule and the Short-lived Republic

In the 19th century, European powers used their superior technology in armaments to open China’s trade with the West, especially for opium. The Chinese defeat by Great Britain in the First Opium War (1839–42) forced the Qing to grant the British special trade privileges and to begin the lease of Hong Kong. A peasant revolt called the Taiping Rebellion erupted against the Qing dynasty and its capitulation to foreign rule. The rebellion gained control of a substantial portion of southern territories until being put down with the assistance of British and French forces. But it set a new precedent: 30 million lives were lost due to armed conflict, revolutionary violence, and famine.

Sun Yat-sen

The stage for the end of imperial rule was set in 1898, when the Empress Dowager Cixi seized effective control of the state and encouraged the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Its suppression by Britain and the US weakened imperial rule further. By the late 1890s, a national movement had arisen inspired by the revolutionary ideas and writings of Sun Yat-sen. His Three Principles ideology of nationalism, democracy, and people’s welfare had gained a widespread following. An uprising he sparked in a regional capital spread throughout the country. Delegates from provisional assemblies across China established a new government in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, inaugurating the Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen was named president. When the head of the imperial army, Yuan Shikai, negotiated the abdication of the six-year-old Emperor Puyi, it put an end to 3000 years of imperial rule. To achieve a united government and avoid civil war, Sun Yat-sen ceded the presidency to Yuan Shikai. This fateful move led to the collapse of republican government. Shikai abolished the nascent national assembly elected in 1913 — mainland China's first and only free election — and moved the capital back to imperial Beijing. When he attempted to create a new dynasty, he was forced from power in 1915. Central administration fell apart, igniting a period of division among various warlords and armed factions that competed for territory.

The United Fronts, the Long March, Japanese Invasion, and Civil War

Sun Yat-sen gained effective control of the south and, still hoping to reunify China, he established a First United Front in 1921 that joined his Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After his death in 1925, Sun Yat-sen was succeeded as head of the Kuomintang by General Chiang Kai-shek, who set about forming a central government in Nanjing in 1927. But communist-inspired attempts on his life prompted General Chiang to renounce the United Front. The Kuomintang defeated a number of peasant revolts organized by communist guerrilla leader Mao Zedong. In 1934, facing defeat, Mao ordered the Long March, a 3,000 mile retreat of the communists to escape the Nationalist army. A majority of the rebels died along the way, but the Long March is credited with saving the Communists from total defeat. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria forced Chiang to divert his army from its drive against the Communist forces. As China faced the prospect of a full Japanese invasion, two generals kidnapped Chiang to force him to agree to a Second United Front with the CCP to fight the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). The Nationalist-Communist alliance deteriorated as early as 1940 but it allowed the CCP forces to increase their strength. After the final defeat of Japan, a civil war between the two sides broke out in 1947. 

By 1949, the People's Liberation Army gained control on the mainland. Nationalist forces retreated to the island of Taiwan. They declared their government to be the legal continuation of the Republic of China (ROC). The Communists established the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 to supplant the ROC on the mainland. Armed hostilities ended in 1950, but technically the PRC remains at war with the Republic, which it considers part of a single China. Following a period of dictatorship under the leadership of Chiang Kai Shek (who died in 1975), Taiwan emerged as a stable multiparty democracy with a successful free-market economy. The ROC constitution still claims to be the legitimate government of all China, but most leaders refer to the country as Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party recently won both presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2016. It considers Taiwan as its own independent nation-state. deal with the fact that China was largely a peasant country, Mao introduced a distinct variant of communism, a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.

The People's Republic of China

Since being formed in 1949, the People's Republic of China has been ruled by a totalitarian government.

Its constitution, modeled on the Soviet Union, establishes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the supreme political authority within the state. Mao Zedong, as chairman of the CCP and leader of the People's Liberation Army, quickly seized full political powers of the PRC and had himself appointed chairman, later called president, of the government. He also became head of the Central Military Commission. To deal with the fact that China was largely a peasant country, Mao introduced a distinct variant of communism called “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” that instituted the “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.” The totalitarian system was in fact the same as that established by Lenin in the Soviet Union. It was based on the principle of “democratic centralism,” meaning centralizing power in the leadership of the revolutionary vanguard communist party.

The Chinese Communist Party established its full control through systematic repression of the population. There were various ideological campaigns (having names like the “The Three Antis Campaign”) to eradicate warlords, landlords, property owners, Nationalists, and any open critics of the CCP. Hundreds of thousands were rounded up at a time and either executed or put in a new penal and labor camp system known as laogai. Political opponents were often taken to high buildings and given the choice to either jump off or be pushed. After Mao’s “Hundred Flowers” movement in 1956 unexpectedly grew into a mass reaction expressing opposition to the CCP’s policies, he ordered a new Anti-Rightist Campaign in which millions of people whose criticism he had solicited were dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned, or executed. In 1958, impatient at the pace of socialist advancement, Mao undertook a new campaign, the Great Leap Forward (1958-63) to fully collectivize agriculture and industry. Forced collectivization proved disastrous. Historians differ on the level of the catastrophe, but demographic experts put the number of people who died from collectivization and the resulting famine at up to 60 million people.

Poster promoting the Great Leap Forward.

The Cultural Revolution

The Great Leap Forward, which the regime publicly blamed on natural disasters, resulted in a curtailing of Mao Zedong's powers. He was replaced as chairman of the PRC by Liu Shaoqi and as general secretary of the party by Deng Xiaoping. Mao responded with the Cultural Revolution. In May 1966, he delivered a speech calling for the eradication of the “Four Olds” (old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas) in religion, education, culture, and also within Communist institutions themselves. The campaign incited a new revolutionary fervor that let Mao get rid of his competitors. Millions of people were expelled from government institutions and sent to prison or forced to work on farm collectives. Red Guards, made up of Mao loyalists (Maoists) and radical student paramilitary groups, rampaged through the cities of China to destroy any public expression of “the olds.” The Red Guards carried out kangaroo trials and hangings and led forced marches of offenders to prisons and work collectives. Liu Shaoqi was arrested and Deng Xiaoping was sent to a work collective. Maoists were restored within the state apparatus. The Cultural Revolution lasted until 1976, shortly after Mao's death, and the arrest of the so-called Gang of Four (led by Jiang Qing, Mao's wife), who in official historiography are blamed for the “excesses” of this period.

The Period of Economic Reforms

Deng Xiaoping was politically rehabilitated by his longtime mentor, Zhou Enlai, who served as premier from the 1950s and survived as Mao’s “No. 2” through the Cultural Revolution. Following the deaths of both Zhou and Mao in 1976, Deng regained key posts in the party and maneuvered to gain full control of state policy. In 1978, he introduced a new economic policy called the “Four Modernizations,” a term first introduced by Zhou in 1963 to reform four key areas — agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. What these new policies introduced was a hybrid capitalist-Communist economy in which state-run conglomerates and private property co-exist and foreign investment is strongly encouraged. Since reforms were adopted, China’s economy has boomed. Although its growth has moderated in recent years, China is predicted to surpass the US as the world’s largest economy by 2030. To achieve such growth, the government moved 250 million peasants to newly constructed cities where industrialization and manufacturing were based, the largest social engineering project in history.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Deng’s policies became a model for other communist regimes like Vietnam (see Country Study). Part of China's “economic miracle” was based on its artificially low labor costs due to the suppression of worker rights. Indeed, China’s growth has diminished partly because labor unrest over the last decade has driven wages higher, causing foreign investors to move to ever cheaper countries (see Country Study in Freedom of Association). Although China boasts a growing middle class, as of 2012, per capita income was still just one-fifth to one-ninth that of the European. Wealth is highly concentrated within the communist elite. The Economist reports that China is the world’s most unequal society in income distribution, with the top tenth percentile receiving 57 percent of income.

The People Protest: From the Democracy Wall to Charter ‘08

While there was a brief loosening of censorship accompanying the Four Modernizations, Deng Xiaoping quickly made clear that economic reforms did not mean political change. One initiative was the Democracy Wall in 1978, a long street wall in Beijing where activists put up large character banners with news and opinion articles. As activists began to call for more human rights, the postings were quickly taken down and what was called “the Beijing Spring” was repressed. The most famous banner was titled “The Fifth Modernization,” by Wei Jinsheng, an electrician who advocated that democracy was an indispensable “fifth modernization” in politics. Along with many others, Wei was arrested and spent a total of eighteen years in prison over the next two decades. He was forcibly exiled in 1997 (see Resources for Liu Binyan’s article “Living in Truth,” a review of Wei Jingsheng’s memoirs).

In 1989, the year of democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, a more serious challenge to Communist Party rule emerged when student protests in Tiananmen Square broke out to demand liberal reforms. After several weeks of growing demonstrations in Beijing and cities throughout the country, Deng Xiaoping ordered the army and police to suppress the democracy movement with force. Thousands were killed or maimed. Tens of thousands were imprisoned and many more expelled from universities and other state institutions or forced into exile. Since then, the state has used all the tools of a police state to prevent any recurrence of the Tiananmen Square protests. Many people were arrested to prevent the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown (see Resources).

Nevertheless, a dissident movement has emerged in China similar to movements that arose in the Soviet bloc. In 2008, Liu Xiaobo along with other leading dissidents launched Charter ’08, a political manifesto in favor of democratic change modeled on the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia. Charter ’08 gained 1,300 signatures before it was banned by government censors from the internet. Its leaders and many of its signers were arrested. Liu Xiaobo, previously imprisoned for participating in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, was sentenced to 11 years in forced labor for “conspiracy to subvert the state.” In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In retaliation for their contacts with foreign journalists, his wife remains under house arrest and her mother was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on trumped-up fraud charges. More recently, another initiative called the New Citizens’ Movement has been similarly repressed (see Country Study in Freedom of Association and New York Times article in Resources).

Mao Zedong's image continues to adorn many buildings in today’s China.

Communist Dictatorship Unchanged

The PRC has gone through three full political transfers of power since Deng Xiaoping’s retirement from political life in 1992. None of these changes in top personnel resulted in political liberalization. As of 2012, Xi Jinping is the supreme leader. Like his predecessors, he combines the posts of chairman of the Communist Party of China, state president (chairman of the state council), and head of the Central Military Commission. Overall, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with an estimated 80 million members, remains in total control of politics, the state, and the economy. The People’s Congress, the formal legislature, is made up of Communist Party functionaries and appointed regional representatives, all of whom are selected by the central leadership. Within China’s “democratic centralist” system, the power of Xi Jinping is only contested by factions within the Politburo loyal to previous leaders (former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao) or that have built up local power bases. Since Xi Jinping came to power, he has cemented his control through an “anti-corruption” campaign that has resulted in the removal of 400,000 party officials, many of whom have been sentenced to prison, suspension of civil liberties, and fines. The purge included several top figures from the party such as Bo Xilai, the party leader in Chongqing. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2013 on corruption charges.

Suppression of Autonomous Regions: Tibet and Uyghurstan

The PRC continues to suppress two autonomous regions: Tibet and Uyghurstan, both ethnically distinct regions that had maintained autonomy under much of Chinese imperial rule.

Tibet established its independence in 1913. Having a devoutly Buddhist society, Tibet was governed by its religious leader, the Dalai Lama. In 1951, the People’s Revolutionary Army invaded Tibet and it was made an Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1959. Martial law was imposed and the Dalai Lama and many of his followers fled to exile in India. Since then, Chinese authorities have brutally repressed the Tibet’s unique Buddhist culture and society. The Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, has advocated negotiations with the Chinese government for a return to autonomy. The Chinese authorities agreed to talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives as a condition for being awarded the 2008 Olympics, but these were suspended. No progress was made toward a negotiated solution. Instead, Chinese authorities stepped up a policy of importing Han Chinese to the territory and using modernization projects to destroy venerated historical and cultural sites. Tibetans continue to resist Chinese rule. In one protest, 300 Tibetan monks sought to draw world attention to the destruction of Tibetan culture through a desperate campaign of public self-immolations in Tibet’s capital, Llasa.

Uyghurstan, a region in northeast China, is officially called the Autonomous Xinjiang Uyghur Region. Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that adheres to Islam, have resisted Chinese control for decades only to suffer similar repression as in Tibet. Tensions between Uyghur and Han communities have risen following years of heavy Han immigration into the region and discrimination against Uyghurs by officials. After protests in 2009 against the displacement of Uyghur workers by Han immigrants, one thousand Uyghurs were arrested and dozens sentenced to long prison terms, some to the death penalty. Since then, the autonomous region has been under heavy security. Activities aimed at preserving Uyghur culture and language has been repressed.

Hong Kong: A Threatened Haven of Freedom

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 after the end of a ninety-nine year lease granted under the Qing dynasty. It is now governed under a formal agreement made with the United Kingdom guaranteeing respect for Hong Kong's self-governance and separate system of laws — a policy the PRC calls “one country, two systems.” During negotiations between Britain and China, a strong civic and political movement arose in Hong Kong to enhance and protect democratic freedoms. Following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, teacher union leader Szeto Wah helped create the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which served as a focal point for Hong Kong’s civil society to turn back anti-democratic initiatives. In 2003, 500,000 citizens demonstrated against a proposed anti-subversion law that was withdrawn as a result of the protest. In 2012, a new “national education” curriculum proposed for Hong Kong schools based on Chinese Communist Party historiography was also withdrawn as a result of similar protests. Annually on June 4, the Hong Kong Alliance organizes a commemoration of the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. On the 25th anniversary in 2014, more than one hundred thousand people gathered in a candlelight vigil in defiance of threats by Chinese authorities. Soon afterwards, the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement organized an informal public referendum on whether China’s chief executive should be chosen through direct election and opening more seats of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to direct vote. The government issued a memorandum rejecting such democratic changes and reiterating its final control over the affairs of the territory, sparking a months-long protest movement and occupation of central Hong Kong. The protests dissipated under police pressure but Hong Kong democracy leaders vow to continue their campaign for direct elections. For some, the suppression of the Umbrella Revolution and efforts to democratize the Legislative Council have led to new efforts demanding independence of Hong Kong.

Freedom of Expression

The suppression of free expression in China today reflects its nearly 3000-year history of imperial rule and the increasing rigidity of imperial state doctrines. A brief period of greater freedom during and after the period of the Republic of China did not take hold within a conflict-ridden country. Today, the People’s Republic of China exercises a comprehensive and repressive system of control over the media, the internet, and speech. All broadcast and print media as well as book publication and distribution are controlled by the state and the Communist Party of China. Internet and wireless communication has encouraged some free speech through blogs and social media, but overall the internet and digital forms of expression are tightly restricted by a large state apparatus monitoring and controlling communication and access to information.

Imperial China and the Republic

From the outset of its written history, emperors and territorial warlords imposed rigid systems of control over expression that rewarded obedience and repressed dissent. Under succeeding Confucian and neo-Confucian doctrines that stressed loyalty and submission; free thought and inquiry were discouraged. In the ninth and 10th centuries AD, Chinese emperors established a formal list of censored books as soon as book printing in multiple copies began. Unlike in Europe, where a religious Reformation fostered intellectual differences, in China all religious tendencies (Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and folk religion) were absorbed into a single state system. Many Chinese intellectuals spoke out, achieved scientific discovery, and developed new means of expression, but none of China’s intellectual or scientific achievements succeeded in superseding the longer traditions of repressive government.

In the late imperial period, there arose greater intellectual and political ferment, especially among exiles living in Japan, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Newspapers produced in these communities were circulated within China. Many émigrés were influenced by Western thought, including Sun Yat-sen, who studied in British-run schools in Honolulu and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, he developed and gained initial adherents to his “Three Principles” ideology of nationalism, democracy, and people's welfare and he was able to inspire political followers within China. The Republic of China sparked greater intellectual vibrancy and diversity but it failed to take deep hold. Democratic hopes were supplanted by Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian Kuomintang and then by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under the People's Republic of China, all media quickly became controlled by the state. Censorship was introduced and various political campaigns enforced ideological uniformity.

The People's Republic of China

When it seized power of the mainland in 1949, the CCP ended all forms of intellectual freedom and imposed a single ideology, communism, governing all aspects of life. The civil society that was given a brief life during the republican period was destroyed. Under the People's Republic of China, all media quickly became controlled by the state. Censorship was introduced almost immediately and various ideological campaigns enforced political uniformity. Any deviation from the communist line was repressed. Social mobilization further discouraged dissent. Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Cultural Revolution reinforced the penalties for straying from established orthodoxy through an ongoing and terrifying ideological campaign (see above). Although Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and privatization marked an economic departure from Communist orthodoxy, political control was not relaxed. Deng’s regime quickly clamped down on free expression initiatives, such as the Democracy Wall movement, or forcibly suppressed political protest movements, such as the Tiananmen Square demonstrations (see above). Today, freedom of expression remains fully suppressed by state controls.

Media Control and Censorship

The period of economic reforms brought about an increase in broadcast and print media. Today in the People’s Republic of China, there are more than 2,000 newspapers, 7,000 magazines and journals, 1,000 radio stations, and 3,700 television stations. However, the proliferation of broadcast and print media and their commercialization has not created an independent media. The increase of media has taken place mostly within the framework of state ownership or state-sponsored ownership. By law, any “private” media must have majority state or communist party ownership, meaning “private” does not mean independent. The only national television broadcaster is the state-run China Central Television (CCTV); all local stations are required to broadcast its news shows exclusively. All major cities have one state-owned local broadcaster and at least one state-owned newspaper. [A]ll media are still strictly supervised by the state's enormous propaganda and censorship apparatus.

All media are strictly supervised by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, which has corresponding branches at all levels of administration. Nearly all significant appointments of editors, broadcasters, and senior journalists at media outlets remain controlled by the party's nomenklatura, or patronage, system. Once appointed, editors and journalists must attend “ideology reinforcement conferences,” where they are directed in the content they should and should not include. The realm of taboo topics is enormous, among them official history, challenges to the political monopoly of the CCP, negative portrayals of CCP leaders, the existence of censorship itself, forced sterilizations required by the previous one-child policy, the Tiananmen Square uprising and massacre, Tibet, Uyghurstan, and Hong Kong, dissidents or banned movements like Falun Gong, among many, many other topics.

All media comply with “propaganda circulars,” often issued multiple times a day by the Central Propaganda Department and its local branches. These provide specific direction on positive propaganda that should be included and information that must be excluded from the news. Editors and journalists who dare to report on local corruption are often severely punished and face dismissal, bans, or arrest. Some are prosecuted under the Protection of National Secrets Law, which by definition means that the alleged violation of the law is never known. (See Freedom House links in Resources for further description of the censorship apparatus.)

China and the Internet

The internet has greatly expanded with an estimated 600 million internet subscribers and 500 million out of more than 1 billion mobile devices capable of accessing the internet. However, the internet is highly monitored by the censorship apparatus and many additional boundaries are set for its use. Restrictions strictly control what sites are allowed to be accessed as well as what may be posted.

The state’s “Great Firewall” restricts access to foreign web sites reporting news, places strict filters on topics (such as the Arab Spring, the “color revolutions” that overthrew dictatorships, and highly specific topics related to politics); specific web sites (for example Freedom House, other human rights organizations, Wikipedia, among many thousands of others); news services (the New York Times and Bloomberg News have been blocked for their coverage of the wealth accumulation among the Chinese elite, while many others are also blocked); and foreign social media and microblogging sites (such as You Tube, Facebook, and Twitter). In this latter category, China created parallel companies and sites like Sina Weibo for microblogging and Tencent’s WeChat for instant messaging, where all posts are monitored. In general, any websites considered by authorities to be politically or socially dangerous are inaccessible to Chinese users. As many as 500,000 people work in the Chinese administration to actively monitor website and blogging traffic and post pro-regime comments in discussions. Foreign search engine companies like Google and Yahoo! actively cooperate with internet censors by creating filters.

Many web users get around formal restrictions to successfully disseminate information and express dissenting views on the internet. The large size of this independently minded web community is indicated by mass spontaneous campaigns around public disasters. By posting unofficial pictures and accounts before official censors have a chance to control reporting, microbloggers, often with millions of followers, have forced authorities to change news coverage of events. Such campaigns have even affected public policy, forcing changes to development plans that endanger the environment among other policies. (On internet controls, see the special report in Economist and articles in the New York Times in Resources.)

Current Issues

The current Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping, continues to carry out policies aimed at consolidating his power. The anti-corruption campaign reached a new level in 2015-16 both in scale and scope. In 2015 alone, it was reported that a total of 400,000 officials had been dismissed in the campaign, many of them arrested and charged with criminal offenses for corruption. In the highest profile case to date, Zhou Yongkang, the former top security official and a former member of the Politburo, was sentenced to life imprisonment in June for abuse of power and taking bribes related to oil investment. Xi’s consolidation of power is reflected in media coverage indicating a new cult of personality not seen since the rule of Deng Xiaoping. As reported in The New York Times, state media accounts of his most recent public appearances portray Xi “as a demigod.” He himself stated on a public tour that the media “exists to serve the Communist Party and must pledge fealty to Mr. Xi.”

The regime has maintained a high level of repression for any dissent and has further cracked down on free expression. In January 2013, journalists at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly went on strike after censorship officials changed a New Year’s editorial urging greater adherence to China’s constitution, a position being advocated by the New Citizens’ Movement. The journalists’ protest gained online support and anti- censorship street demonstrations were organized by students, intellectuals, and artists. The incident at the Southern Weekly was repeated at several other newspapers. These online and public protests, however, were quickly tamped down. In response, later in 2013, officials used the incident to issue stricter guidelines on media coverage, restricting further the topics that could be covered by journalists such as antigovernment protests, torture, certain cases of official corruption, and fatal industrial accidents. According to Freedom House, the guidelines tightened controls on use of foreign sources or microblogs and required Chinese journalists “to pass a new ideological exam in order to receive their press cards.” The regime has maintained a high level of repression for any dissent and has further cracked down on free expression. . . .

Also starting in 2013, the Chinese authorities stepped up its efforts against “cybercrime” — defined as posting pro-democracy opinions or information on taboo topics — by arresting hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers, for “rumor mongering,” “inciting public disorder,” or trumped up criminal charges like engaging in prostitution (see link to “Busting China’s Bloggers“ in Resources). In addition, a court ruling broadly expanded prosecutors’ power to initiate criminal defamation charges against bloggers for content deemed false, defamatory, or threatening to public interest if that information is “widely” disseminated (viewed by more than 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times).

These controls and crackdowns on expression have continued according to the 2016 Freedom in the World  and Freedom of the Press country reports. The authorities have also increased repression of “mainstream” journalists at state-controlled media. (The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 44 cases of state-registered journalists imprisoned on various charges, such as divulging state secrets or acts of defamation at the end of 2014; the number increased in 2015-16.) In addition, the Chinese authorities have stepped up an active campaign to influence social media — it was reported recently that government “trollers” post 488 million items a day.

Several activists connected with the New Citizens Movement — a network of individuals seeking adherence within the legal system to human rights guarantees in the Constitution — were sentenced. One leading member, Liu Jiacai from Hubei province, was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power” in articles posted online and in public gatherings of fellow activists. Relatedly, in July 2015, there was an “unprecedented crackdown” on civil rights lawyers. Within one 48-hour period two hundred lawyers and other professionals from law firms and public-interest groups known to defend civil and human rights activists were placed under detention or house arrest; a number simply “disappeared.” In an act reflecting the growing trend of Chinese police authorities acting outside state borders, the son of one lawyer was seized while traveling in Myanmar and forcibly returned to house arrest in China.

There continued to be a high focus on activists from Uyghurstan. In one case, a Uyghur scholar, Ilham Tohti, was arrested in January 2014, together with several of his students. He had recently begun the website Uyghur Online “dedicated to improving interethnic understanding.” In September, Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism. The students remained in custody in undisclosed locations. The authorities also tried to affect reporting abroad by the American-Uyghur citizen Shohret Hoshur, who works for the US-based Radio Free China. They sentenced one of his brothers living in Urumqi to 5 years’ imprisonment in 2014 and arrested his two other brothers in 2015. Hoshur has not stopped his reporting.

As noted above, Hong Kong retains greater freedom of expression. However, its media are under constant and increasing pressure of the Chinese authorities. In January 2014, for example, Kevin Lau Chun-to, a popular editor-in-chief of one of Hong Kong’s most respected independent newspapers, Ming Pao, was suddenly ousted by the newspaper’s ownership group based on the Chinese mainland. In March 2014, the former editor was violently attacked in an attempted assassination. Thousands of people immediately went to the streets in protest. (In a recorded message from his hospital bed, Chun-to told demonstrators, “Violence is meant to intimidate. If we are frightened into submission, we lose our freedom.”) More recently, the Chinese authorities appeared to step up the pressure. The editor-in-chief and four other employees of the publisher Mighty Current Media, which specializes in books on current Chinese leaders, disappeared and were presumed to be abducted from Hong Kong and taken to Beijing. The chief editor, Lee Bo, was said to send a fax to his wife stating that he had gone “voluntarily” to aid Beijing police in a corruption investigation. Another employee recorded a video “admitting” to criminal offenses. The case indicates again the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to violate state boundaries in its campaign of repression and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: Country Studies - Uganda

 Uganda Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 5.5; Political Rights: 6; Civil Liberties: 5. 

Note: From 2003 to 2014, Uganda’s overall freedom ranking in the Survey of Freedom in the World was between 4.5 and 5 in Freedom House’s scale (with 1 being most free and 7, being least free). In this period, this rating placed it in the category of a “partly free” country. Uganda’s score dropped to 5.5 and its status was downgraded to “not free” in the 2015 Freedom in the World Report due to a deterioration in political rights as well as civil liberties, including increased violations of individual rights and freedom of expression. However, Uganda’s status in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2016 report remained “partly free” given its still significant independent media. For purposes of Democracy Web’s Comparative Studies in Freedom, Uganda serves as a “partly free” country in the category of Freedom of Expression.



Uganda gained independence in 1962 after 75 years of Britain’s direct colonial rule. At first an electoral democracy, Uganda has had dictatorial governments since 1966, the worst period being the murderous reign of Idi Amin from 1971–76. A milder dictatorship took hold in 1986 when Yoweri Museveni declared himself president. He ended the worst forms of repression, instituted a semi-democratic system of elections, and restored growth to the economy. After thirty years in power, Museveni refuses to step down and won a seventh term in February 2016 in a highly dubious election process. While there is an active political opposition, Museveni’s rule has become increasingly repressive and it is now considered a “not free” country by Freedom House. Uganda’s generally vibrant and independent media struggles to survive. Freedom House ranks Uganda “partly free” in its Freedom of the Media Report for 2016. Reporters Without Borders ranks Uganda 97th out of 180 countries in its 2015 index. 

Uganda lies on the Lake Victoria basin in Central Africa and is located between the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the West and Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda to the east. Its northern border is South Sudan after gaining independence in 2011. Uganda has a multiethnic population of approximately 35 million, 38th largest in the world. Despite its size, it ranks among the poorer countries: 102nd in nominal GDP at $27.6 billion in total output and, even worse, 172nd in nominal per capita GDP for 2015 at $625 per annum, both figures according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Transparency International ranks Uganda 139th out of 167 countries and territories in its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. 


Origins and the Emergence of Multi-ethnic Governance 

Uganda was populated by hunting and gathering groups as early as 30,000–40,000 BC. Different groups speaking Bantu, one of the dominant sub-Saharan African-language families, began residing in the area in the fourth century BC and spread their practices of herding and agriculture. Cushitic-, Nilotic-, and Luo-speaking tribes, mostly pastoralists, migrated to the area from the west and north of Africa at the end of the first millennium. Some pastoralists moved south to form the Hima and Tutsi ethnic communities of northern Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. The Nilotic speakers who stayed in Uganda formed two major states, Bunyoro and Baganda, and several minor ones, which were all ruled through a royal clan system in which clan elders elected the leaders (kabakas). Buganda was the more successful, quadrupling its territorial control and surpassing Bunyoro as the dominant state in the region. 

State and Religious Rivalry Ends in British Rule 

Uganda thus developed its own internal system of rival states. When the British explorers John Speke and Henry Stanley arrived in the mid-19th century, they converted Buganda's kabaka, Mutesa I, to Christianity. His conversion sparked a competition between British Protestant, German Protestant, French Catholic, and Islamic missionaries in the region. Buganda's Protestant and Catholic adherents combined to defeat the initially successful Islamic converts, but then battled between themselves. The Protestants were victorious. Backed by the military force of Buganda, the British set out to conquer the Bunyoro and other areas in the region. In 1888, the British East Africa Company was granted full control of East Africa (the Lake Victoria region); in 1894, Buganda became a British protectorate.

President Yoweri Museveni shaking hands with US President Ronald Reagan.

British Colonial Rule and the Politics of Independence 

During a large portion of British colonial rule, Buganda was treated favorably in exchange for its loyalty to the Crown. The Buganda kabaka was able to keep half of the territory under his control while the British controlled the other half. Negotiations for independence began in the 1950s, but the British administrator considered Buganda's kabaka, Mutesa II, a major stumbling block for refusing to make concessions to other regions to achieve a unitary Ugandan state. Mutesa II wanted a separate nation-state for Buganda. Cohen briefly exiled Mutesa II in 1953, but this only served to strengthen his position among Bagandans and he was brought back in 1955 with restored powers, including to appoint his own governing council. The Democratic Party (DP) emerged to unite the country's Catholics and a coalition of non-Catholic, non-Bagandan groups formed the Uganda People's Congress (UPC), led by Milton Obote. 

When Mutesa II continued to thwart establishment of a unitary state, Cohen simply announced that elections would be held in March 1961 for a National Assembly representing the entire territory. Mutesa II boycotted those elections, but a second election for a national legislature was held in 1962. This time, the British allowed Mutesa II simply to fill a number of seats with members of his Kabaka Yekka Party (the King Only or KY party). Obote’s UPC then allied with members of Mutesa II’s KY party to create a dominant two-party coalition. Obote became prime minister of the initial government, and Mutesa II became the head of the unitary state. 

From Elections to Dictatorship 

Upon gaining independence in October 1962, Uganda and its new government faced many challenges due to its regional, ethnic, and religious differences. At first, Obote managed the many factions of the UPC and gained the army's loyalty. He also undermined Mutesa II’s political base by enticing members of the KY to defect to the UPC coalition with state patronage positions. Obote bolstered his position by allowing residents of the "10 lost counties" of Bunyoro, territory Buganda had seized in 1900, to vote in a referendum to return to their historical kingdom.  A corruption scandal, however, cost Obote nearly all support within his own party; only one UPC member voted for Obote in a no confidence vote. Instead of resigning, Obote carried out a coup against his own government with the support of the military. He ended the multiparty system, deposed President Mutesa II and forced him into exile, and had a new constitution adopted concentrating powers in the prime minister's office. He abolished the two-kingdom federal system, broke up Buganda into four districts, and established secret police and paramilitary forces to maintain his control. Uganda’s early promise as an electoral democracy was put to an end.

A Ugandan coin honoring Julius Nyrere of Tanzania for his role in ousting Idi Amin.

Idi Amin's Reign of Horror 

In January 1971, Idi Amin, a protégé of Obote who was head of the armed forces, staged a preemptive coup just before Obote, fearing Amin’s growing power, had planned to order his arrest. Amin instituted one of the most repressive regimes in Africa's post-colonial history. Under his reign, Amin's forces killed more than 300,000 people, including mass executions of the Acholi and Langi ethnic groups for their presumed loyalty to Obote. In 1972, Amin expelled Uganda's entire Asian community (approximately 50,000 people, mainly Indians), destroying Uganda's main class of commercial merchants. Amin, who was illiterate, ran his government by oral orders, leaving no written records. But eyewitnesses testified to the brutality of his rule (portrayed vividly in the film “The Last King of Scotland”). Finally, in 1979, Amin was overthrown by the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), resistance forces led by Obote, after Amin’s ill-fated declaration of war on Tanzania, whose army routed Amin’s. Saudi Arabia provided Amin refuge and he never was brought to justice. 

"The Movement System": Elections Without Democracy  

After three interim governments, presidential elections were held in December 1980 that again returned Milton Obote, still head of the UPC, to power. Obote's second term in office (1980–85) was a repetition of his first. Following a coup, a subsequent military regime carried out unsuccessful counterinsurgency campaigns to defeat an insurgent group, the National Resistance Army (NRA), which was led by Yoweri Museveni, a former officer in Obote’s intelligence service. The NRA seized Kampala in late January 1986, forcing government troops to flee to Sudan. On January 29, 1986, Museveni installed himself as president and has remained in power ever since. Museveni ended the harsh repression of the military dictatorship, introduced greater civil liberties to Ugandan life, and adopted successful economic policies to overcome Uganda’s hyperinflation, a product of 15 years of conflict. Arguing that political parties aggravated ethnic and religious conflicts in Africa, Museveni ran Ugandan politics for two decades according to what he called "the movement system." In effect, it was one-party rule under a supposed “non-party” coalition called the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Not surprisingly, Museveni won presidential elections held in 1996 and 2001. Two subsequent elections, in 2006 and 2011, took place under a changed constitution that allowed for opposition parties, but Museveni won these also. International monitors deemed both elections as seriously flawed by fraud, intimidation, and violence. 

International support has diminished due to Museveni’s entrenchment in power over nearly three decades, his increasingly dictatorial practices, and Uganda’s adoption of harsh anti-homosexual laws.

Eroding International Support

The international community backed Museveni’s original overthrow of military dictatorship. He retained international support due to his government’s initial respect for human rights, adoption of IMF stabilization policies, cooperation in the war on terror in neighboring African states, and a successful campaign to reduce HIV adult infection rates from one of the highest to one of the lowest in Africa (from 15 to 5 percent). The international community also strongly backed Uganda in a decades-long conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a messianic guerrilla movement led by warlord Joseph Kony that split from Museveni’s NRA in the mid-1980s. The LRA was expelled from Uganda, its original base, in 2005, but the LRA has continued to maintain bases in the jungles of neighboring countries. Kony remains a fugitive from the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges stemming from his abduction and forcible use of children as fighters and his gruesome practices (cutting off limbs of opponents). A 5,000-strong African Union army contingent has failed to capture Kony over several years even after being bolstered by US military special forces (see article in Resources). 

International support for Uganda’s government significantly diminished, however, as Museveni perpetuated his rule over nearly three decades through increasingly dictatorial practices and also adopted harsh anti-homosexual laws (see also below). Increasing corruption eroded confidence in the economy. In February 2016, Museveni claimed another presidential term in an election contested by Kizza Besigye, a long-time opposition leader whose previous bids had been thwarted by trumped up legal actions against him and various unfair electoral conditions. Besigye’s support appeared to have grown, but Museveni claimed a 60-35 percent victory. Besigye and other opposition leaders rejected the results due to blatant ballot stuffing, bribery, and widespread intimidation. Besigye himself was placed under arrest in the last week of the campaign.

Freedom of Expression

Under Uganda’s previous dictatorships following independence, and particularly during the murderous rule of Idi Amin, there was little respect for human rights or freedom of expression, either in law or practice. After Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986, his government eased repression, adopted a constitution protecting some human rights, and allowed independent media to develop to an unusual degree for a non-democratic regime. But Museveni’s increasingly authoritarian rule has put additional restrictions and constant pressure on the media, as well as on opposition political groups, independent groups, and alternative social movements.

Constitutional Guarantee and Government Practice

The Ugandan constitution adopted in the early 1990s protects free speech. Even before adoption of constitutional reforms, President Museveni had allowed a vibrant free media. While pro-government media are among the largest outlets, there are more than 200 independent radio stations, 50 independent television stations, and 50 independent print outlets that are independently owned and operated. The largest circulation newspaper, the Daily Mirror, is independent and highly critical of the government. The non-government media frequently report on corruption, question government policies, and challenge the government’s abuse of power. The legal environment however, is not fully free. The Press and Journalist Act (PJA) require the registration of journalists (who are required to have a university degree) and the licensing of media outlets, processes used to intimidate and control reporting. The Information Minister issues regulations under the PJA on ethics and practices that tend to limit journalists’ freedom.

 President Museveni and other government officials have frequently threatened and repressed the media.

In practice also, President Museveni and other government officials have frequently threatened and repressed the media. This was more frequent in the last decade. For example, in 2009, four radio stations were closed temporarily for reporting on protests. In that case, the Supreme Court showed its independence in ruling that the new law applied to close the radio stations, the Law on Sedition, was unconstitutional. But other laws remain on the books for libel and defamation; journalists are often harassed for reporting on government abuses; and new laws adopted in 2014, such as the Anti-Pornography Act (APA) and the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) threaten media freedom by regulating sexual material and reference to homosexuality. In November 2011, Amnesty International cited 30 cases of journalists facing criminal charges for reporting on corruption, human rights abuses, or topics dealing with “regional security.” Two radio journalists, Patrick Otim and Augustine Okello, were imprisoned in 2009 and 2011, respectively, both charged with treason. Otim was acquitted in 2012 but Okello remains in prison.

The internet operates with general freedom. While only 14 percent of the population accesses the internet through cable, there are 20 million cell phone subscribers that may access internet through WiFi. Some internet usage is now being restricted. In response to planned protests in 2011, for example, the Ugandan Communications Commission ordered internet service providers to temporarily block the social media sites Facebook and Twitter to “prevent the sharing of information that incites the public.”

The Environment for Political Expression

Most the government’s actions against free expression are related to limits on political rights aimed at maintaining Museveni’s hold on power. The 2006 election was the first in 25 years to allow candidates from multiple parties to compete, but the conditions were neither free nor fair. Kizza Besigye, the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was allowed to return from exile to register for the election in November 2005, but the government immediately arrested him on false charges of treason and rape. Besigye was released to contest the elections without consideration of the charges. Conditions were clearly tilted towards Museveni, who controlled appointments to the Electoral Commission. He won 60 percent of the vote, while parliamentary elections held at the same time were dominated by the National Resistance Movement (NRM). The courts considered the case against Besigye only after the elections; in lengthy proceedings, he was finally cleared of all charges in 2010. The conditions for the 2011 elections, which Besigye and the FDC again contested, were similar. International monitors documented restrictions on political party activities and voter eligibility, heavy bias in state media, and use of government resources for the campaigns of Museveni and the NRM. Museveni claimed 68 percent of the vote, and his NRM party took 265 seats to Besigye’s 26 percent and the FDC’s 34 seats. During the electoral campaign, there were numerous attacks on journalists for covering opposition candidates.

After the elections, Besigye organized popular “walk to work” marches over the course of 2011 to protest electoral fraud and corruption. These were violently dispersed: nine persons were killed and there were large-scale arrests and physical attacks against journalists covering the events by police and paramilitary groups. There have continued to be confrontations between government security forces and supporters of Besigye and another opposition leader, Erias Lukwogo, a leader of the Democratic Party. (Lukwago, the elected mayor of Kampala, was impeached in 2013 when a government-appointed tribunal found him guilty of corruption and incompetence. Twenty journalists were arrested trying to cover the impeachment proceedings in which Lukwago was voted out of office. A High Court found the tribunal’s report invalid and ordered Lukwogo to return to office, but an Appeals Court reversed the order in March 2014 on the same day as Lukwogo sought to resume his duties. In the February 2016 elections, Lukwago won a resounding victory returning him to office.)

In response to the “walk to work” protest movement, the National Assembly passed the Public Order Management Bill in August 2013. The Bill significantly expanded the government’s power to restrict freedom of assembly and expression by imposing broad new limitations on “public meetings.” The law has been widely criticized by civil society groups, opposition parties, and the international community.

The Daily Monitor

The most significant attack on free media was the government’s campaign against the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s most widely read independent newspaper, following its publication in May 2013 of a sensational letter indicating dissension within the government. The letter was sent by General David Sejusa, the coordinator of intelligence services, to the head of the Internal Security Organization and other officers. The letter warned of an alleged plot to assassinate senior officials who opposed a plan to have Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, an army officer, succeed Museveni as president. Sejusa went into exile to the United Kingdom, where he continued to provide detailed information about the regime’s efforts to silence opposition, including several cases of mysterious deaths of elected officials and other government critics (on these incidents, see Resources for links to related articles in The New York Review of Books, New York Times, and Economist). The government denies any attempts to engineer Museveni’s succession or to assassinate internal opponents within the government. When Sejusa returned to Uganda, he was arrested to face charges in military court.

The security services questioned the newspaper’s editors and raided its offices to find out the source of the letter. It then shut down the Daily Monitor, as well as the tabloid Red Pepper and two associated radio stations housed in the same building. Protests against the closing by journalists and free media groups were forcibly dispersed by police. Three persons were arrested, including the national director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists–Uganda. In late May, the owners of the newspaper, the National Media Group (NMG), made an agreement with the government allowing all four media outlets to reopen but in exchange for a statement of regret about the story published by the Daily Monitor and a vague promise by editors to “be sensitive” when printing stories about the government. While there were fears that the agreement could set a precedent for self-censorship, the Daily Monitor continues to publish stories critical of the government.

Campaign Against LGBT Rights

Another troubling area for free expression is the government’s campaign against homosexuality and advocates of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender) rights. Laws against “sexual deviance” were already severe. In December 2013, however, there even stronger sanctions were adopted with the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). The law imposes new harsh sentences, including the death penalty, for homosexual acts as well as criminal penalties for promotion of homosexuality, a provision that could be applied to the media. The government also sponsored anti-homosexual demonstrations and campaigns against LGBT rights’ organizations. In 2011 and again in early 2014, a pro-government tabloid published the names, photographs, and some addresses of gay Ugandans. The gay rights activist David Kato was murdered in January 2011 following the first publication of names. (The killer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment.)

The law and the government’s actions against LGBT rights, including the police closure of AIDS clinics and organized break-ins at Ugandan NGOs such as Human Rights Network–Uganda (HURINET-U), have sparked international protests. Although the US is continuing military aid to Uganda to support the country’s efforts to capture the international fugitive Joseph Kony, the Obama administration introduced economic sanctions on Uganda in June 2014 in response to the most recent anti-homosexual law. The AHA was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in late 2014 but on technical, not substantive grounds, and the parliament continued to re-consider legislation as of the end of 2015. Police repeatedly repress gay rights meetings and raid offices of gay rights advocates, while homosexuals face widespread discrimination in public settings, employment, and commerce.

Freedom of Expression: Country Studies - Netherlands

Netherlands Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Free. Freedom Ranking: 1; Political Rights: 1; Civil Liberties: 1.

The Netherlands

Summary and History

For Summary and History, see the Netherlands Country Study in "Majority Rule/Minority Rights."

Freedom of Expression

The Netherlands has a long history of freedom of expression, free political debate, and fair political competition. That tradition continues. In Freedom House’s survey Freedom of the Press: 2016, Netherlands tied with three other countries (Belgium, Finland, and Sweden) as having the freest media ranking in the world (see also its country report). Reporters Without Borders, a free media advocacy group, ranks Netherlands as the fourth freest country in the world in its 2016 Press Freedom Index. Freedoms of expression and belief are guaranteed by the constitution and are respected in practice. The country's numerous public and private news outlets promote wide-ranging debate and political analysis. The general political atmosphere in the Netherlands remains free and its multi-party system reflects the broad representation of political views. (After the most recent 2012 parliamentary elections eleven political parties with different ideologies, platforms, and social backgrounds gained seats in parliament, while dozens of other parties regularly compete fairly for political office at national and local levels.) As in neighboring Denmark, the Netherlands’s tradition of free expression has come under attack by extremists using violence and threats of violence to silence debate about crucial issues (see below and Netherlands Country Study in Majority Rule, Minority Rights).

The Pillars of Free Media

Netherlands has a unique system for public broadcast media dating from the mid-1920s. As part of its general “pillar community” policy adopted at the time, four associations representing Catholic, liberal, Protestant, and Socialist parties were granted licenses to share time and resources on a single public radio broadcasting system. This system was extended to television in 1951 and then also broadened to cover ten social pillars (including political parties, the Muslim community, and youth). Each member association, or “pillar,” produces Dutch-language shows for the public broadcasting station based on ratios of population and use. The arrival of cable and satellite introduced a broader range of stations, including four Dutch commercial stations, an increase in regional and local broadcasting, and foreign channels. Despite calls for modernizing the media law and cuts to public broadcasting, the pillar system continues to operate and still holds the strongest position in Dutch programming and viewership at 38 percent. Forty-four percent receive news primarily from public broadcasting stations.[T]he Netherlands has among the highest distribution of newspapers and magazines in the world. . . .[H]alf of households still purchased at least one national newspaper daily.

The Print and Internet Media

Print media by tradition was connected to political parties (left, center, and right) and religious orientation (Catholic, Protestant, and secular). Today, print media are mostly independent of political parties, but some remain tied to a religious orientation. Although distribution of print media is declining, the Netherlands has among the highest distribution of newspapers and magazines in the EU. One study in 2011 showed that half of Dutch households still purchased at least one national newspaper daily and a greater percentage read either a paid or freely circulated newspaper on a daily basis. More recent studies indicate the number remains near those percentages. There is not a significant tabloid press, as in the United Kingdom. Nor is there the phenomenon of media tycoons, despite the fact that the concentration of ownership is high. Three major companies own 80 percent of national and regional daily papers, but they each publish a wide range of opinion and news.

Internet use is widespread. According to New Media Trend Watch, there were 15.5 million subscribers as of early 2014, fifty percent of the population actively uses social media sites, while 93 percent overall regularly use the internet. Fifty percent of the population gets news from internet sites (including internet streaming of broadcast stations) and most print newspapers have web site versions. A new innovation, the “Paydike” web application, has established a one-stop shop where all major Dutch newspapers and magazines have agreed to post their articles for readers to select for purchase as they wish (what the founders call “I-Tunes”). There is no state filtering or censorship on the internet and the Netherlands was the second country after Chile to adopt a net neutrality law that prevents telecommunications companies from discriminating in charges or creating bias in search results based on data usage.

Extremism: A New Threat

The issue of extremism in the Netherlands emerged in the early 2000s as a serious threat to free expression. Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigrant right-wing politician who came to prominence in 2002, strained the public culture of tolerance with his rhetoric against Islam (for example, calling it a “backward religion”). But his assassination before elections in 2002 by an animal-rights activist introduced an even worse phenomenon: the use of violence as a means of political argument. Fortuyn's assassination encouraged a similar action by an Islamic radical who killed the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in October 2004 after his release of two documentary films on the repressive conditions faced by Muslim women in fundamentalist communities. The dual reaction — anti-Muslim demonstrations and extremist Muslim applause for the assassination — brought the issues of free expression and immigration into sharp relief. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born minister of parliament received death threats and had several attempts made on her life for her participation van Gogh’s documentaries (she resigned her seat in parliament and emigrated to the US). Such intolerance propelled broad public questioning of the country's decades-long immigration policy of "absorption without assimilation" and policies were adopted both to limit immigration and encourage greater assimilation. In addition to deporting 26,000 mostly Muslim unemployed immigrants in 2006, parliament passed a law in 2011 banning face coverings in public and subsidies for jobless immigrants who cannot speak Dutch (see also the Netherlands Country Studyin Majority Rule, Minority Rights).

Protests in Amsterdam against the Jyllands Posten cartoons of Muhammad.

The Cartoon Wars: Solidarity and Backlash

The intolerance shown towards Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali for their expression also manifested in the worldwide reaction to the 2006 publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish regional newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Demonstrations by fundamentalist Muslims protesting such depictions, which are proscribed by the Koran, were organized in Denmark and around Danish embassies not only in predominantly Muslim countries but also in Europe. As a sign of solidarity for free expression, several newspapers in the Netherlands republished the cartoons; they also received threats of violence and threatening protest demonstrations took place. Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende stated that while he understood that some images might be provocative to Muslims, “I regret the threats from the Muslim world. In our world, when someone crosses a line, we take the matter to court. There is no place here for threats. . . .” (See also Essential Principles and History.)

Balancing Rights, Tradition, and Hate Speech

The Netherlands has one of the freest environments for expression and speech in the world and places few limits on free speech in public forums. It also has one of the broadest transparency laws for the release of public documents. In addition, the Netherlands is the source of new innovation in newspaper distribution (like the “Paydike” mentioned above). However, the Netherlands, as all democratic countries, still struggles to balance freedom of expression, majority and minority rights, and respect for traditions. One anomaly to the general free expression culture is a law enacted in 1881 and still on the books that bans insulting the monarchy. (Insult laws are common. France has a law against insulting the president, for example. A link to the World Press Freedom Committee’s documentation of “insult laws” around the world is in Resources.) While in the Netherlands the insult law is not enforced frequently, there were 19 cases brought between 2000 and 2012, with nine convictions. In June 2011, Associated Press, a foreign company, was fined by a Dutch court for publishing pictures of the royal family vacationing on the beach, a transgression of accepted Dutch newspaper custom to maintain the privacy of the royal family.

More significantly, the courts continue to wrestle with defining precisely the enforcement of a law against inciting hatred adopted after World War II. In 2011, the court acquitted Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Party of Freedom, on charges of inciting hatred for harshly worded editorials opposing immigration and describing Islam in crassly negative terms. In this case, the court determined that Wilders was engaged in public debate on issues and not in direct attacks on Muslims as individuals or as a group. A new case was brought when Wilders advocated the deportation of all Moroccan immigrants, since he targeted a specific group. In another prominent case in 2014, prosecutors ultimately dropped a case against a Dutch blog site, GeenStijl, which had published a photo-shopped image with the head of the mayor of The Hague onto a beheading victim of the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

In 2014, the government presented a proposal to parliament called “An Integrated Approach to Jihadism.” It allows the government to monitor online distribution of jihadist material that “encourages violence, radicalization or hatred.” The government seeks agreements with Internet Service Providers to block such content but if material is not removed the government may now take criminal action against an alleged offender or an ISP provider. Intelligence agencies are also known to gather “untargeted” data from users of suspected extremist web forums. Such tensions between freedom of speech and internal security are increasingly common in democratic countries, in response to attacks by violent Islamists.

Freedom of Expression: History


The Evolution of (Free) Speech

Evolutionary scientists have identified that the most distinguishing feature of human beings (Homo sapiens) is their capacity for complex language. It is still not clear when this capacity developed. Theories about when the spoken language began to emerge range from 100,000 to over one million years ago. The development of written language is better chronicled but not without historical debate. Recent archeological discoveries date proto-writing or pictographic language, the precursor to writing systems, to nearly 10,000 years ago (the 7th millennium BC). Written language systems emerged in the fourth millennium BC. The first known examples were Sumerian, a cuneiform (or pictographic) language used in southern Mesopotamia, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, each dating from around 3200 BC. Both languages coincide with the rise of the earliest human civilizations. It is likely that written language also developed independently in the Indus Valley (2200 BC), China (1200 BC), and Mesoamerica around 600 BC, among other places, although historians debate whether these may be connected to earlier developments.