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New policy in full: Freedom of Expression and Belief

March 20, 2015 4:29 PM

The following policy was voted on and adopted during the Liberal Democrat Spring conference in Liverpool.

This text includes the amendments that were made from the original proposal.

F18 Freedom of Expression in Europe and Beyond

Mover: Maajid Nawaz

Summation: Dr Evan Harris

Conference condemns without reservation:

i) The appalling attacks on journalists and others in Paris in January and believes there can be no justification for any such acts of violence.

ii) The atrocities committed by Islamist extremist terrorists in Nigeria and in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

iii) Attacks on and persecution of journalists in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere for expressing their right to free expression.

Conference reaffirms its commitment to tackling anti-Muslim hate, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice directed against people as individuals or groups.

Conference believes that:

A. While no-one has the right to directly abuse, to harass, threaten or intimidate others, people do have the right to offend others.

B. Those who are offended by the lawful words or actions of others do not have the right to prevent such free expression by acts of violence or intimidation.

C. In a free and open society no belief system or ideology should have any protection from criticism including satire and lampooning, and there is no basis for privileging religion over other forms of belief or ideology.

D. Journalists play a particularly important role through their work in upholding human rights and enhancing democracy.

E. There is no place for restrictions on acts of blasphemy in law or by intimidation leading to self-censorship.

F. There is a difference between hateful words or conduct directed against believers as people and words or conduct that amount merely to sacrilege, blasphemy or apostasy in the eyes of others and that freedom of expression and freedom of belief in a democratic and free society requires blasphemy, sacrilege and apostasy to be unfettered.

G. The attacks were in no way a true reflection of mainstream Islamic beliefs and that it is unacceptable to seek to hold Muslims or Islam in general in anyway responsible for these criminal acts.

H. Everyone should have the right to practise a religion, or no religion and that everyone has the right to change their religion if they wish.

Conference notes the proud record of Liberal Democrats in protecting free expression in these areas and in particular the role played by Liberal Democrats in:

I. Amending section 5 of the Public Order Act to remove 'insulting' words as an ingredient of the crime.

II. Abolishing the UK's own blasphemy laws in the last Parliament, as well as the laws on seditious libel.

III. Blocking an over-broad religious hatred law in the last Parliament which would have censored legitimate speech.

IV. Calling for judicial oversight to protect journalistic sources when RIPA powers are being considered and for public interests defences in law for certain criminal offences like hacking.

Conference further notes the need to protect journalistic freedom and recognises the vital role played by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Strasbourg Court in protecting those freedoms for example in the area of protection of sources.

Conference rejects the recent attack by the Culture Secretary on the ECHR and the Strasbourg Court as a threat to journalistic freedom in this country, and attempts by the Conservatives and Labour to introduce disproportionate and untargeted surveillance powers which would rob us of the freedoms that terrorists seek to threaten.

Conference applauds the continuing role played by the Deputy Prime Minster and other Liberal Democrats in:

a) Defending the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.

b) Blocking attempts to introduce a so-called 'Snooper's Charter'.

c) Stopping the Home Secretary's push to introduce 'banning orders' which would give her the power to put ASBO-style constraints on people who say unpleasant but lawful things.

d) Forcing the Conservatives to climb down over the need to protect whistleblowers by ensuring judicial oversight of police data requests for journalists' sources.

Conference calls for:

1. Solidarity with journalists and writers threatened or attacked for exercising their rights world-wide.

2. Progress with the abolition or repeal of blasphemy and apostacy laws in Europe, the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.

3. Opposition to attempts to introduce national, transnational or UN laws on the 'defamation of religion'.

4. Continued opposition to the scapegoating of the Muslim community by extremists and political opportunists in relation to terrorist acts.

5. Progress with the abolition or repeal of laws anywhere in the world which interfere with a person's right to choose, practice or change their religion, or to have no religion.