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Foto: Hylla Barbosa/HRA

100 % freedom of expression?

Freedom of expression is an essential part of personal development, democracy and finding the truth. But are there situations where this human right should be restricted?

Photo: Hylla Barbosa/HRA

Quick facts

Human rights • Democracy and citizenship • Critical thinking
Youth school • High school • Adult education • Organizations and others
Ca 1 hours
Materials: Pen and large sheets of paper.

Activity goals

  • Understand the most important reasons behind freedom of expression, but also understand that there might also be arguments to restrict it.
  • Learn that according to human rights conventions, states are allowed to restrict freedom of expression in some situations, under certain conditions.
Since 2008 the Human Rights Academy, together with partners, have organized numerous workshops in human rights and multicultural understanding for Russian, Norwegian and Swedish journalism students.


  • The facilitator introduces the task: Freedom of expression is an important human right, but are there situations in which this freedom should be restricted? The participants are to explore arguments for and against complete freedom of expression.
  • The facilitator divide the participants into groups. There must be at least two groups because they will be working with freedom of expression from opposite perspectives. If there are many participants, for example 20 or more, they can be divided into four groups, where two of them will have the same task:
    • One (or two) group (s) will have this task: Find as many arguments as possible to support the idea of complete freedom of expression
    • The other group (s) will have this task: Find as many arguments as possible to support the idea that freedom of expression, in some circumstances, should be restricted (30 minutes).
  • The groups present their work in a plenary session. The group (s) that have worked with arguments for freedom of expression shall present their arguments first.


The group work has shown that there are many good reasons for freedom of expression, but also that this freedom sometimes should be restricted. This duality is reflected in the international human rights documents. The treaties protect freedom of expression, but give the states possibilities to restrict this freedom in some situations and under certain circumstances.

For example, Article 10 in the European Convention on Human Rights recognises that freedom of expression cannot be absolute, but that there are good reasons for restricting expressions that have harmful and destructive effects. This may refer, for example, to expressions that compromise other peoples´ privacy and family life; that discriminate against vulnerable groups; that encourage violence and terrorism, that are pornographic and can harm children and young people; that disclose state secrets; or that have other negative impact on individuals, the state or the society at large. According to the Article, however, any restrictions must be according to the law and must be necessary in a democratic society. The underlying argument is that since freedom of expression is such a fundamental democratic value, the states´ restrictions cannot be arbitrary.

Tips to the facilitator

Web resources