Free Speech and International Protest

Free Speech and International Protest
by Sue Basko

This week, I am traveling to Vienna, Austria for meetings of OSCE, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the world’s largest intergovernmental organization. OSCE has 56 member States and 12 additional States that are “partners in cooperation.” The meetings will be of a branch of OSCE called ODIHR, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We will be meeting in the Hofburg Palace, which is used as the main meeting place for ODIHR.  I have never been in a palace before. 

I will be attending as an expert in the field of protest law (free speech and public assembly), protest planning/ organization, and use of new technology/ new media at protest.  It is an honor for me to attend. 

At the meetings in Austria, we will be making recommendations to the States or their entities on how they might best facilitate freedom of speech and assembly.  OSCE-ODIHR is taken very seriously and it is likely our recommendations will shape the course of free speech internationally in years to come. 

If you'd like to read the annotated Agendas for the meetings, you can download them here:

My plan is to propose a recommendation that all participating States promote and protect the use of new technologies at protests, including cellphones, cellphone cameras, live streaming, wifi, twitter, internet.  I will ask that the recommendation specifically ask States to prohibit the use in public locations of any technology that would block or control cellphones or cellphone cameras.  Apple and Research in Motion (RIM) already have method patents on such technologies.  It is important that the use of cellphones, cameras, and wifi remain unobstructed in public locations.   

Over the past year, I have assisted the OSCE- ODIHR (Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) with a report on free speech and public assembly  in the OSCE region.  The leaders from ODIHR came to the United States as part of their study. They specifically came to watch and learn about the G8 protests in Maryland, NATO protests in Chicago, and Occupy Wall Street New York City, Occupy Chicago, Occupy Los Angeles, and Occupy Oakland.  They asked me to assist them and it was a great honor to do so.

The ODIHR report that was written will be launched at the meetings in Vienna this week.   I think the report will be unprecedented in its scope. The report covers the entire OSCE region, so the U.S. portion is only one part.  The efforts that went into the U.S. part of the report are remarkable.  At each of the locations, the ODIHR team met with live streamers and had access to thousands of hours of protest video.  The team also met with protest planners, legal observers, lawyers, and also with police, mayoral staffs, and others.  At Maryland G8 and Chicago NATO, they hired a team of monitor/ observers to watch the protests and make reports on their observations. 

I think this report is different from any prior reports on human rights in protest, because the researchers had access to video proof of what was being told.  I have not yet seen the report, but will link it here when it is released.     

I personally want to thank everyone who responded to my invitations to participate in the study.  Participation was confidential and strictly between those who participated and the researchers.  The report will contain no names.  However, there was enormous help from the seasoned planners behind the NATO protests, the steadfast organizers of the G8 protests, and many of the nation’s most tenacious, omnipresent, and hardworking live streamers and independent media makers, and people who had participated and witnessed deeply at Occupy Chicago,  Occupy Wall Street, Occupy DC,  Occupy Los Angeles, and Occupy Oakland.  People overcame their fears and hesitance and shared their insights, what they had seen and experienced, and their videos and photos.  I think the report will be a trustworthy picture of what has been going on with free speech and public assembly at the protests during the first year of Occupy.     

Most people who will be attending the events in Austria are doing so as a representative of a government or large organization.   I will be there as an “expert,” but as an expert who is not on anyone’s payroll.  I help many people and groups with protest and media laws and rights and issues, but am not paid.  I contribute my work as part of my belief in free speech and the right to peaceful protest.  I provide a unique service with protests, because my emphasis is on planning and media, rather than on helping after arrest or filing lawsuits.  I am also interested in international legislative initiatives that protect free speech, such as the recommendation I will be proposing in Austria.

Over the past year, I have helped numerous groups in the US and elsewhere with their plans for peaceful protest.  I also let people know the laws pertaining to protest.  I also have helped the live streamers and other media people with such things as Fair Use, getting press passes, Copyright, being subpoenaed, understanding various laws, and many other things.   I also write blogs to let people know specifics about protest law and surveillance.  I publish the text of laws, posts to help people understand specific areas of law, bail schedules, policies of different law enforcement agencies, links to Ustream channels for different protest events, and much more.  My blogs get hundreds to thousands of hits per day. I also take emails and phone calls to help with people’s questions and concerns.  I try my best to stand up for free speech and peaceful protest, because these are the cornerstones of democracy.

Therefore, I am asking people if they can, to please hit the donate button and help me with this trip.  ODIHR is paying my main expenses for the trip, but there are still other expenses.  I AM ASKING BECAUSE I REALLY NEED HELP WITH THIS.  Any amount is appreciated and will be used wisely. 

Thanks so much, -- Sue

from a dear one:

Sounds fully righteous. More power to you!

I agree with your proposal, and add this: The positive and constructive power of the protests I have seen are in the assembly. People coming together to talk with each other and the world. All communication should be free from obstruction, including any and all communication technology and printed material. The threat of confiscation or destruction of communication devices by law enforcement limits their effective use. Hijacked access to communication devices (warrantless wiretapping) by law enforcement, and the perceived threat of this activity, divides groups into those who can accept that risk, and those who cannot, another attack on free assembly and open communication.

People should also feel free to enter and leave an assembly at will, dividing and corralling people perpetuates us/them modes of thinking, the antithesis of the assembly.

Best of luck to you on your trip. It really sounds like a great adventure. I have never been to Austria, but I would try the strudel.