Freedom of expression may only be restricted in limited cases, including in the interest of public safety.
- The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions and restrictions as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, public safety or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
- 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
- The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph [freedom of expression] shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: (b) the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.
- The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
- The second issue is, therefore, whether in the present case such obstacles are justified under article 19, paragraph 3 [Freedom of Opinion and Expression], of the Covenant, which allows certain restrictions but only as provided by law and necessary: (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others; and (b) for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals. The right to freedom of expression is of paramount importance, and any restrictions to the exercise of this right must meet a strict test of justification.
- The Committee notes that it is for the State party to show that the restriction on the author’s freedom of speech was necessary in the present case. Even if a State party may introduce a permit system aiming to strike a balance between an individual’s freedom of speech and the general interest in maintaining public order in a certain area, such a system must not operate in a way that is incompatible with article 19 of the Covenant. In the present case, the author made a public address on issues of public interest. On the evidence of the material before the Committee, there was no suggestion that the author’s address was either threatening, unduly disruptive or otherwise likely to jeopardise public order in the mall; indeed, police officers present, rather than seeking to curtail the author’s address, allowed him to proceed while videotaping him. The author delivered his speech without a permit. For this, he was fined and, when he failed to pay the fine, he was held in custody for five days. The Committee considers that the State party’s reaction in response to the author’s conduct was disproportionate and amounted to a restriction of the author’s freedom of speech which was not compatible with article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant. It follows that there was a violation of article 19, paragraph 2, of the Covenant.
- The Committee recalls, first, that right to freedom of expression is not absolute and that its enjoyment may be subject to limitations.However, pursuant to article 19, paragraph 3, only such limitations are permissible as are provided for by law and that are necessary (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals. The Committee reiterates in this context that the right to freedom of expression is of paramount importance in any democratic society, and that any restrictions on its exercise must meet strict tests of justification.
- Governments may prevent the dissemination of election broadcasts only where such dissemination would be certain to lead to a disruption of public order or a violation of some other interest that the government is legitimately entitled to protect. A strong argument can be made that government-controlled media, especially where they control the only or main channels in a region, may not refuse to broadcast political debate save in limited circumstances.