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The Dangerous Global Trend Of Criminalizing Free Expression Online

Elon Musk has famously offered to take up the costs of anyone who suffers professional losses for what they like or post on Twitter. Now, we need him to turn his attention to those suffering criminal charges at the hands of government for the same. This month has been rife with oppressive signs that Twitter is far from a safe space for the right to free expression.

On August 9th, Mexico’s highest court for electoral issues issued a final conviction in the case of former congressman Rodrigo Iván Cortés. The court upheld a guilty verdict for “gender-based political violence” for Cortés’ assertion, on Twitter and Facebook, that a transgender-identifying congressional representative is a “man who self-ascribes as a woman.” The charges were levied after the representative sued on the basis of “denial of identity.”

For stating the truth of biological reality, Cortés has been walloped with draconian reparations measures, including the payment of a fine, and absurdly, a court order that he post the judgment and a court-drafted apology on his social media daily for 30 days. Further, he must attend a course for political violators, and register on a list of offenders. Needless to say, for saying what he believes on Twitter, Cortés’ life will never be the same.

Lest this sound too outrageous to have ever happened before, Cortés is not the only one. The same transgender representative filed a parallel suit and won against sitting Mexican congressman Gabriel Quadri. Interestingly, the representative, Salma Luévano, together with Maria Clemente, another transgender representative, is notorious for fomenting unrest within Mexico’s Congress, including presenting a “hate speech” bill aimed at Christian teaching on sexual morality while wearing the vestments of a Catholic bishop.

Luévano also participated in an incident, together with transgender representative Maria Clemente, in which the chair of the congressional session was physically ousted in an attempt to force the expulsion of Congressman Quadri for his views on what makes a man a man. Clemente also prompted international outrage by Tweeting explicit videos of Clemente’s own “sex work,” citing a right to freely share this kind of content on digital platforms. The irony is palpable.

Disagreement is not discrimination, and peaceful dissent should never be penalized as violence. It is deeply disturbing that Cortés and Quadri, who exercised their basic human right to peaceably share their views on a matter of significant current debate have been convicted as violent offenders when it is their political opponents who are perpetuating unrest within Mexico’s political institutions.

Now, both Cortés and Quadri have exhausted all avenues for justice in Mexico and are taking their cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with the support of ADF International.

Also, this month, Finnish member of parliament Päivi Räsänen returns to court for a 2019 Twitter post that landed her with criminal charges of “hate speech” for “agitation of a minority group”. Räsänen’s tweet questioned her church’s participation in a local pride parade, and four years later, this much-loved civil servant, medical doctor, and grandmother is still bearing the cost of exercising her right to free expression.

Räsänen was fully acquitted in 2022, but the Finnish system permits legal double jeopardy allowing the prosecution to appeal on the grounds that it was unsatisfied with the verdict. She will be back in court on August 31st, with charges against her that carry tens of thousands of euros in fines, and even the possibility of a two-year prison sentence.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society and a basic right of everyone guaranteed by all major human rights treaties. Without it, all our other human rights erode. Happening before our eyes is a dangerous global trend to criminalize free expression. In a world facing mounting censorship, it’s never been more important to protect the right of every person to speak freely, whether you like what they’re saying or not.

Cortés, Quadri, and Räsänen have in common the peaceful expression of their convictions. And, notably, all experienced the brunt force of the law for daring to speak out on an “unwelcome” topic. Nobody should be punished, let alone criminally charged, for simply sharing what they believe. State-backed censorship blurs the line between dictatorships and democracies, leaving the rest of us with no choice but to question — how long before this happens to me?

Elyssa Koren is an international human rights lawyer and director of legal communications for ADF International, which is supporting the legal defense of Cortés, Quadri, and Räsänen. Follow her on Twitter: @Elyssa_Koren

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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