Writers Under Arrest

Freedom of speech and state censorship



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

However, these fundamental freedoms are often restricted using a variety of both legal and illegal tactics. These tactics include media regulation, defamation laws and criminalisation of ‘hate speech’ right through to, in the more repressive regimes, harassment, arrests and jailing of people who are perceived as threats.

While there are reasons for limiting free expression these reasons can, themselves, be abused. States may claim this need for censorship – to protect morals, national security, public order – but what are the appropriate limits on such interference. When is state censorship just a matter of protecting power and political goals?

Three former ‘prisoners of conscience’ speak about the circumstances leading to their own arrests and the key issues and challenges facing freedom of expression around the world.

With special thanks to Amnesty International Australia and Index on Censorship

Integrity 20’16


Freedom of speech and state censorship


Ma Thida (Myanmar)
MA THIDA is a Burmese surgeon, writer, political commentator and human rights activist. In 1993 Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years in prison, of which she served five and a half years, for her activism. Ever since her release she has monitored and written on events in Burma, and, with the lifting of the military regime, now heads PEN International’s Myanmar Centre…Full profile

“Under the dictatorship that was going on, there was censorship and a propaganda machine, and I think the only intellectuals who could cross the boundary of censorship and propaganda were writers.”

Ma Thida

President, PEN Myanmar

— Health in Myanmar (@himmoderator) September 30, 2016

Peter Greste (Australia)
PETER GRESTE is an Australian journalist and correspondent who has worked for Reuters, CNN, the BBC, and most recently Al Jazeera. On 29 December 2013, Egyptian security agents arrested Peter and two other Al Jazeera English journalists, accusing them of news reporting that was “damaging to national security”. He was jailed for 400 days in a crowded Egyptian Prison … Full profile

“Rarely have so many of us been imprisoned, beaten up, intimidated or murdered in the course of our duties. In my cell in Masraa prison in Cairo, I don’t have access to the latest figures, but an editorial in The Times that I saw quotes the sums that Freedom House put together for last year. In 2013, 71 journalists were killed on the job. Eight hundred and twenty six were arrested, 2,160 were physically attacked and 87 were kidnapped. And those numbers don’t include the fixers who are often more exposed than us reporters who hire them, or the citizen journalists who are often the only sources of information in a place like Syria…Globally, Freedom House says that press freedom is the worst it’s been in a decade. It reckons that 44 percent of the world’s population lives in places where the media is ranked as ‘not free’, while 42 percent are in regions where the media is said to be only ‘partly free’.”
— from Peter Greste’s Keynote Speech for the Frontline Club 2014 Awards Ceremony

Peter Greste

Foreign correspondent and journalist

— Health in Myanmar (@himmoderator) September 30, 2016

Rafael Marques de Morais (Angola)
RAFAEL MARQUES DE MORAIS is an award-winning journalist and anti-corruption activist in Angola, working to expose corruption and abuse of power by the country’s ruling family. Despite repeated arrests and threats Rafael has continued his investigations, most recently detailing human rights abuses within Angola’s diamond companies … Full profile

“My name is Rafael Marques de Morais. I am an Angolan investigative journalist, and this week I may be jailed for a book I wrote in 2011 exposing human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond-rich areas of the Lundas.

Tomorrow seven powerful generals, including the minister of state and head of the intelligence bureau of the president, General Kopelipa, will take turns in testifying against me at the start of my trial on nine charges of defamation.”

March 2015 – This week I may be jailed for writing a book on human rights abuses – Rafael Marques de Morais – The Guardian

Rafael Marques de Morais

Investigative journalist

CHAIR: Madonna King (Australia)

Author, commentator, journalist