The Right to Freedom of Expression and the Right to be Safe

Focus: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life and security

Value: Integrity

Here you will learn that the right to freedom of speech and expression is essential for democracy and that governments may put limits on freedom of expression when the security of others is threatened such as in the case of hate speech and incitement. You will also consider the impact of human rights on individual safety and wellbeing.

Learning intention: I am learning about the right to freedom of expression and the right to be safe as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

Success criteria: When discussing a topic which some consider controversial, such as Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, I am aware of the language I use and the attitudes I adopt and that these must be respectful and sensitive to the feelings of others especially Muslim or Jewish people.  

Activity 1

First watch this short animation on human rights. 

Freedom of Expression and the Right to be Safe – PowerPoint presentation.

Read information sheets 1 and 2.

Information Sheet 1

Freedom of Speech and Expression  

Following the destruction and suffering of World War II, the United Nations drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to try to create a more just world.  

Article 19 of the UDHR guarantees the right of freedom of expression which is not only important in its own right but is essential if other human rights are to be achieved. This article envisages a world where people are free to: 

•       Express their opinions 

•       Participate in decision making and 

•       Make informed choices about their lives. 

Once freedom of expression is lost, all other freedoms fall.  

For Individuals   

At an individual level, freedom of expression is key to the development, dignity and fulfilment of every person.  

  • People can gain an understanding of their surroundings and the wider world by exchanging ideas and information freely with others.  
  • People feel more secure and respected by the state if they can speak their minds and know that their government listens to their concerns and hopes.   

For States  

Democratic governments value freedom of expression and freedom of information in various ways:  

  1. They help ensure that competent and honest people run the country. Media watch and report on the government and highlight any wrongdoing. In that way media prevent a culture of dishonesty.

  2. They allow individuals or groups to complain about anything they don’t like about the government. If people can speak their minds without fear, and the media can report what is being said, the government can become aware of any concerns and address them.


  3. Article 19 extends beyond boundaries. Individuals can raise concerns about the actions of any state if they believe the state is being unfair to its people.


  4. They promote other human rights. They help improve government policy in all areas, including human rights. They also enable journalists and activists to highlight human rights issues and abuses, and to persuade government to act.  

For all these reasons, the international community has recognised freedom of expression and freedom of information among the most important human rights.  

Information Sheet 2

Limitations on Freedom of Expression 

When free speech can be restricted…

In certain circumstances free speech and freedom of expression can be restricted.

Limitations on freedom of expression help create a fair society for all of us. When you study the conflict between Palestine and Israel, it is important to remember this and adopt language and  attitudes that are respectful and sensitive to the feelings of others, especially people of the Jewish or Muslim religions.

Governments have an obligation to prohibit hate speech and incitement. And restrictions can also be justified if they protect specific public interest or the rights and reputations of others.

Any restrictions on free speech and freedom of expression must be set out in laws that must in turn be clear and concise so everyone can understand them.

People imposing the restrictions (whether they are governments, employers or anyone else) must be able to demonstrate the need for them, and they must be proportionate.

 …and when it can’t

Before a government can limit free speech, it must abide by strict safeguards.    

Rights and responsibilities  

Free speech is one of our most important rights and one of the most misunderstood. 

‘Use your free speech to speak out for those that are denied theirs. But use it responsibly: it is a powerful thing.’ Amnesty International

Activities 3

Read information sheets 3 and 4.

In your group, decide which statements you consider to be Anti-Semitic or Islamophobic.

Information Sheet 3

Limitations on freedom of expression help create an inclusive society. In studying the conflict between Palestine and Israel, it is important to bear this in mind and adopt language and attitudes that are respectful and sensitive to the feelings of others, especially people of the Jewish or Muslim religions.


An Israeli is a citizen of the State of Israel. 

A Palestinian is someone who lives, or has lived, in Gaza or the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or now in Palestinian refugee camps in neighbouring countries.               

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

A Jewish person is someone who holds the Jewish religion.   

A Muslim person is someone who holds the Muslim religion. 

Anti-Semitism: Hostility to or discrimination against Jews.             

Islamophobia: Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, often expressed in a political context.

What is Anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jewish people. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of Anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong’. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

However, criticism of Israel, similar to that levelled against any other country, cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

Working Definition of anti-Semitism from European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, 
(adopted by UK Government December 2016)

Events in the Middle East

In a survey conducted after the war in Gaza in 2014 by the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities, 80% of respondents said they felt events in the Middle East had negatively affected their experience of being Jewish in Scotland. Reporting of events in the Middle East can create a link in the public mind between actions of the State of Israel and Jewish people in general.

Accusations aimed at Jewish people for the actions of the State of Israel are Anti-Semitic and must not be tolerated in a modern democratic country such as Scotland.

‘Anti-Semitism must be understood for what it is – an attack on the identity of people who live, contribute and are valued in our society. There can be no excuses for Anti-Semitism or any other form of racism or prejudice. ‘

UK Communities Secretary, December 2016

Definition of Islamophobia – from Show Racism the Red Card Education Pack

What is Islamophobia?  

Islamophobia is literally translated as the fear of Islam: it is used to refer to Anti-Muslim prejudice or discrimination and incorporates the perception that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the religions and cultures of the West, and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion. The term itself dates back to the 1980s, but came into common usage after the September 11th attacks in America in 2001. 

Terrorism and the Media

The rise in Islamophobia has been connected to international politics and specifically to a rising fear of terrorism, which has been linked to the religion of Islam. Specific events, and – crucially – the political and media reactions to them, can create a link in the public mind between Muslims and terrorism, and have made some people fearful of Muslim individuals and communities.

‘Muslims are subject to abuse, discrimination and criminal acts against them for no other reason than their faith or perceived faith. It is equally obvious that overwhelmingly Islamophobia is rooted in racism and therefore is racist.’

Anna Soubry MP, November 2018


Equality and Human Rights Commission

In a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to all political parties on 27 November 2016, in response to a rise in hate crime following Brexit, these points were made:  

  • There is a need for a discussion on what values we hold as a country.

  • We can work closely with you… to make Britain the vibrant and inclusive country we believe it should be.

  • Robust discussion is a central pillar of our democracy and nothing should be done to undermine freedom of expression.

  • The right to free and fair elections supported by accurate information and respectful debate is also essential to our democratic process.

  • Our elected representatives and the media should reflect and foster the best values in our society and engage people on contentious issues in a responsible and considered way.

Information Sheet 4

Amnesty International is calling for an independent inquiry into the Israeli military attack on the UN compound in Gaza City.

A man has been arrested after a Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow was killed in what police have called a ‘religiously prejudiced’ incident. Detectives have confirmed that the man arrested is also a Muslim.

Jewish students had been “hounded” for not attending medical lectures on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at nightfall on Friday evening.
A UN report says that Israel is breaching Palestinians’ right to development amid ‘epic’ unemployment and poverty.

Anti-Semitism must be understood for what it is – an attack on the identity of people who live, contribute and are valued in our society. There can be no excuses for anti-Semitism or any other form of racism or prejudice.

Humza Yousaf, First Minister of Scotland, said that he had faced a barrage of intense abuse online, including threats of physical violence, which are being investigated by the police as hate crimes.

A study of pupils from different religious and ethnic backgrounds found Muslims had been routinely called “terrorists”.

The conflict in Gaza and Israel led to a record number of Anti-Semitic hate incidents in the UK in 2014, figures released by a charity have shown.

Activity 4

When studying a topic such as Israel and Palestine, which is a live issue, it is important to be aware of the language you use and the attitudes you adopt.

Having read the information on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, prepare a set of ground rules to ensure that within or out-with the classroom you respect the rights and opinions of others.

You may wish to start by making Do and Don’t lists.

The Right to be Safe 

You will now consider some cases involving human rights and role play a courtroom scene.

Someone will act as narrator, explaining the case to the class, others will act as the prosecution and some as defence.

You must convince the rest of the class using persuasive writing and speaking techniques.

Activity 5

Read the text together as a group. Refer to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and make a note of which human rights are relevant in this case. (Think of the rights of everyone involved.)

Decide who is going to play the following roles in the courtroom and write the script for your presentation.

Narrator: You introduce the case to the class, explaining clearly what it is about and which human rights are involved.

The Prosecution Lawyers: You will speak on behalf of those whose rights are at risk. You must argue why you think the abuse of their rights was wrong. You must persuade the rest of the class that you are right and justify your opinion.

The Defence Lawyers: You will speak on behalf of the accused. You must argue why you thought the actions were justified. You must persuade the rest of the class that you are right and justify your opinion.

Which side will be the most persuasive?

Case Studies



Lina comes from a poor family in Cambodia. At the age of nine, her parents entrusted her to an acquaintance who said she could find Lina work in Thailand. The woman promised to send Lina’s parents part of her wages to help support their family.

In Bangkok, Lina stood for long hours outside nightclubs selling flowers and candy to tourists. Her trafficker took her earnings and beat her when sales were low. After two years, her trafficker convinced Lina’s parents to also allow her eight-year-old sister, Sopheak, to work in Bangkok. Unwilling to let her sister suffer the same abuse, Lina determined they must escape. She asked a nightclub worker for help – luckily, he agreed.

After spending several months in a Thai children’s centre, the girls were returned to Cambodia. A charity gave Lina and Sopheak a safe place to live, three meals a day, individual counselling and schooling. It also located their family. Today, both girls are happy and safe, and they have goals that are truly within their grasp: Lina, now 12, intends to be a teacher, and Sopheak, age nine, wants to be a nurse.



I was born in Pakistan on 12 July 1991. Welcoming a baby girl is not always cause for celebration in Pakistan but my father was determined to give me every opportunity a boy would have.

My father was a teacher and ran a girls’ school in the village. I loved school but everything changed when the Taliban took control. The extremists banned many things – like owning a television and playing music – and enforced harsh punishments for those who defied their orders. They said girls could no longer go to school. I spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and our right to learn. And the this made me a target. In October 2012, on my way home from school, a masked gunman boarded my school bus and asked, ‘Who is Malala?’  He shot me on the left side of my head. I woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England.



 Adbul is an 11-year-old boy who lives close to the eastern border of Gaza. He loves to play football, but since the mass demonstrations started in March, he was too scared to play in the neighbourhood. On 17 April, Abdul’s friends convinced him that the playground was far enough from the fence, and they started to play. One of the boys shot the ball too far and Abdul started running to get it. He was not aware that the ball had landed near the fence until he found himself face-to-face with an Israeli soldier. Abdul-Rahman had no time to run before the soldier aimed his gun at Abdul’s leg and fired.

Because the bullet was fired at close range, Abdul-Rahman’s leg shattered and needed to be amputated below the knee. He is now the youngest amputee as a result of the mass demonstrations.

Abdul cannot imagine his life without football. He wanted to grow up and be a professional football player. He feels anxious and frustrated when he sees his friends playing during the lunch break, since he can no longer join them.

Abdul now dreams about becoming a journalist, so he can let the world know about what is happening in Gaza.