European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

OSCE meeting discussed freedom of expression in VIENNA, from 3-4 July 2014

Written the Thursday, July 10th 2014 à 17:31

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Representatives from the 57 OSCE participating States, civil society and international organizations met in Vienna on Thursday the 3rd July 2014 for a two-day conference on the promotion of freedom of expression.

The Swiss OSCE Chairmanship, the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) and the OSCE Office jointly organized this meeting with ODIHR – Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The meeting not only provided an opportunity to discuss the rights, responsibilities and OSCE commitments with regards to freedom of expression but also civil society and other international organizations shared experiences on freedom of expression, as well as on ways and means to safeguard and promote this universal human right.

Keynote speaker Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said obstacles to the rights of free expression and free opinion undermine the development and safeguarding of all other fundamental rights.

"The freedoms of opinion and expression are intertwined, together with the right of access to information. They are enabling rights – rights that empower individuals to argue for their due enjoyment of all other rights, from fair trials and free elections to decent living conditions. Conversely, obstacles to these freedoms undermine all other rights, including civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights and the right to development," Pillay said.

EMISCO has been partner of OSCE/ ODIHR for many years. In our cooperation with this important organization, we have arranged many events on European level such as training program for Muslim NGOs against hate crime, side events in human dimension implementation meetings and OSCE officials have been invited as guest speakers in our conferences in European Parliament, Council of Europe, UNESCO and United Nations. We have also regularly taken part and contributed during HDIM in Warsaw.

Our latest cooperation was to arrange a very well attended roundtable on the Topic of "How to combat cyber hate crimes while respecting freedom of expression: the challenge of countering anti-Muslim hatred on the Internet". Mrs Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative on Freedom of Expression was the main speaker, while Dr. Omar Al-Rawi, member of the Vienna Parliament, represented the Mayor of Vienna.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said that a key obstacle to fully embrace and implement OSCE commitments on freedom of expression is the lack of political will.

“The question is, if OSCE participating States have achieved progress since this organization was founded in 1975 to ensure that we can speak our minds freely, without fear or repercussions,” Mijatović said. “Some significant steps have been taken, but I believe that we all agree on the fact that in many of the participating States we are light years away from living in societies where these noble notions are part of people’s everyday lives. This must change.”
EMISCO Secretary Bashy Quraishy welcomed the delegates and explained that the organisation does not want to challenge the right to Freedom of Expression, which is necessary for the promotion of Fundamental Rights, but there was a clear need to point out how Muslim communities are constantly harassed, demonized and made into an enemy in many European countries specially in the western Europe. The same journalists who want to have freedom of expression as their monopoly often set this Islamophobic trend in motion. At the roundtable Muslim NGOs discussed in details those issues, which are usually talked about among 44 million Muslims in Europe.

The Round Table was also addressed by Ayşe ELKILIÇ, Lawyer and Vice-President of Thinkout - Belgium, Julie PASCOET, Policy Officer - ENAR . Engin KARAHAN from IGMG - Germany and Carla Amina BAGHAJATI, spokeperson of the Islamic Community in Austria.

In the afternoon plenary session on the Right of Freedom of Expression, EMISCO and its partner organizations from Europe took active part in bringing civil society concerns and worries about the increasing Islamophobic rhetoric and how Freedom of Expression is grossly exploited by mainstream and social media, political establishment and even academics to demonize Muslim communities in the worst possible way.

EMISCO representatives assured the meeting that the organisation supports United Nation and OSCE's position that freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights. We presented some of the important conclusions from EMISCO’s Round Table as recommendation to OSCE's leadership.
We recommend that OSCE should henceforth:

1. Replace the official term intolerance against Muslims to islamophobia, which is used and accepted by many intergovernmental organizations like UN, Council of Europe, OIC and EU.

2. Make a clear distinction between freedom of expression for the common person as well as journalistic community to criticize the state authorities, decision-makers and power elite in any country and an open propaganda directed towards powerless ethnic and religious minorities, especially Muslim communities by the mainstream and social media.

3. Raise awareness among the journalistic community that while they correctly ask for the protection of their rights, journalists should make sure that they do not trample on the rights of Muslim communities.

4. Legislative framework, which many OSCE participant countries have put in place to protect Jewish and LGBT communities against hate speech and which we whole -heartedly support - should be extended to protect Muslim communities.

5. OSCE must be aware that this constant Islamophobic discourse has already poisoned mutual integration in many societies in the West of Vienna. To counter this trend, Council of Europe has nominated 21st September as Day against Islamophobia. To highlight this form of prejudice, OSCE could join the Council of Europe to strengthen this initiative.

EMISCO, ThinkOut, IGMG, Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association, Islamic Community in Austria, Austrian Muslim Initiative and ABTTF have endorsed this statement

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