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  1. Impact Philanthropy
January 14, 2015updated 01 Feb 2016 10:14am

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, here's how to support free-speech charities

By Spear's

Angela Kail offers a guide to some of the charities which exist to support freedom of speech around the world

The ability to say what you want about any subject is vital to a functioning democracy, acting as it does to counterbalance potential abuses of power. It is also a fundamental human right, without which ideals are not allowed to flourish but are repressed – a situation that all too often leads to conflict and loss of life. For many of us, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris serves as an important reminder of these beliefs.

When we talk about making lives better, we often refer to concrete needs: food, shelter, employment. But the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen presents a more complex equation: real development cannot be reduced to a rise in income, but must also rely on a growing range of freedoms. His argument that development is freedom is a compelling one, although there is a view, too, that if people had their human rights they could be more effective campaigners themselves for their basic needs.

Charities play an important part in the defence of human rights worldwide. They are often the first and sometimes only ones to shine a spotlight on human rights violations or to fight to defend an individual’s rights.

We all know about the good work that Amnesty does to protect human rights. Some charities focus specifically on freedom of expression: English Pen, for example, publicises particular cases and helps pressurise the UN and other government bodies to defend those for whom the freedom to write and the freedom to read is at risk. Founded in 1960, its Writers at Risk programmes is one of its longest-running campaigns, helping writers who are unjustly persecuted, harassed or imprisoned. It recently campaigned for Raif Badawi, who received a sentence of 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for ‘founding a liberal website’.

The Media Legal Defence Initiative helps journalists around the world publish what they want by making sure they have the legal defence they need. The organisation works in 43 countries and is successful in 70 per cent of cases. Indeed, lawyers paid for by MLDI recently won a landmark case in Burkino Faso where a reporter was imprisoned for accusing a prosecutor of corruption. Thanks to this case, Burkino Faso will now have to change its criminal defamation law.

Last week the world stood together and said #JeSuisCharlie. The statement marks a reaction to a single moment in time, but its message will always endure: that of our right to freedom of expression. These charities are often the last resort for people who would otherwise be left in prison and tortured. The work they do in campaigning for freedom allows us all to be a little bit more free.

Angela Kail is head of the funder team at NPC

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