In April 2021, Mongkol Thirakot, a Thai man from Chiang Rai province in Thailand, was arrested and received a 28-year sentence for violations of lèse-majesté. Thailand’s lèse-majesté law prohibits criticizing the country’s monarchy, and each perceived violation carries up to a 15 year sentence. In January of 2024, a Thai appeals court added more jail time to Mongkol’s initial sentence based upon numerous social media posts by Mongkol that the court perceived to be critical of the Thai monarchy. International human rights groups have condemned the sentence, but also Thailand’s lèse-majesté law in general. Thailand’s sentencing of a reformer activist under such a strict law has highlighted the status of freedom of speech and expression globally, leaving many concerned about these rights.
Freedom of speech and expression have been seen as fundamental human rights that serve as a cornerstone of democratic societies. They allow individuals to express their thoughts, opinions, and ideas without fear of censorship or persecution from the state. Freedom of speech is a right preserved in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is formally granted by the laws of most nations. These freedoms vary significantly, with some regions experiencing robust protection of these rights, while others face challenges and restrictions.
In many countries with well established democratic traditions, freedom of speech is typically safeguarded by constitutional provisions and entrenched legal frameworks. Citizens of these nations, on average, enjoy broad rights to express themselves through various mediums, such as print, broadcast, and digital platforms. Yet with the rapid influence of spaces like the internet, the debate about the limits of free speech, particularly around hate speech and incitement to violence, have heated up in these historical free speech-friendly countries. Conversely, there are a number of countries who implement, to varying degrees, constraints on their citizens’ rights to free speech and expression. Autocratic regimes, back-sliding democracies, and others often suppress dissenting voices, limit access to information, and control the media to maintain their desired social order.
This week’s Current Events resources examines the status of freedom of speech and expression in countries around the world. The resources shared provide information and context around the ongoing battles and debates around where and how freedom of speech and expression are implemented in societies across the globe.
- How is freedom of speech or expression typically defined?
- What are the typical legal exceptions to freedom of speech, and why do they exist?
- What are the challenges societies face if they lack freedom of speech or expression?
- What are the challenges societies face when they have robust freedom of speech or expression protections?
- What is the relationship between a healthy democracy and its population’s right to freedom of speech and expression?
- In your opinion, should there be limits on an individual’s right to speech and expression? Explain.
- In your opinion, should every country adopt the right to free speech and expression? Explain.
Free Speech Throughout World History, We the People, National Constitutional Center, June 09, 2022
The Freedom of Speech, Throughline, NPR, May 25, 2023
How Free Speech Works, Stuff You Should Know, February 28, 2017
Freedom of Expression in an Unequal World, Democracy in Question, February 9, 2022
Freedom of Expression, Amnesty International
What Does Free Speech Mean?, United States Courts
Freedom of Speech, Principles of Democracy
Countries with Freedom of Speech 2024, World Population Review
Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview, Amnesty International
Thai man faces a record 50 years in jail for insulting the monarchy, NBC News, January 18, 2024
Who Cares about Free Speech? – Findings From a Global Survey of Free Speech, The Future of Free Speech, July 6, 2021
Koran burning unleashes fierce debate over freedom of speech, Financial Times, July 31, 2023
Pakistan bans media broadcasts of ex-PM Imran Khan speeches, AP, March 6, 2023
Experts say attacks on free speech are rising across the U.S., PBS NewsHour, March 15, 2023
In some countries, people think they have too much freedom of speech, The Economist, July 7, 2021
Southeast Asia: Why is free speech not a priority?, DW, October 2, 2023
U.S. maintains gains but remains down from pre-2016 high in global free expression report., The Tennessean, July 11, 2023
America Has a Free Speech Problem, The New York Times, March 18, 2022
Evidence Is Growing That Free Speech Is Declining, Foreign Policy Magazine, December 4, 2023
They clicked once. Then came the dark prisons., The Washington Post, February 13, 2023
Freedom of Expression, Deliberating in a Democracy
Teaching About Freedom of Speech, Educators 4SC
Lesson plan: The dilemma of protecting free speech, PBS NewsHour Classroom
Educating for Democracy: Speech, AFT Human Rights Resources
Freedom of Speech: Finding the Limits, Annenberg Classroom
Resources for Younger Students:
Lesson Plan: This Girl Fought for Free Speech, Junior Scholastic
Freedom of Speech, Constitution Center
Free Speech and the First Amendment, First Amendment Museum