In March 2015, Angolan journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais appeared in court to face multiple counts of criminal defamation—with a penalty of up to nine years in prison and US$1.2 million in damages—for reporting on the military’s involvement in over 500 cases of torture and 100 murders in a diamond-mining district in the country. In response, three prominent jewelers (Tiffany and Co., Leber Jeweler, and Brilliant Earth) joined an international campaign on Marques’s behalf, issuing statements and signing letters from press freedom advocates to Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos.
Unfortunately, such examples of overt corporate support for freedom of expression—particularly outside the internet sector—are too infrequent in the context of a global squeeze on fundamental freedoms. From Egypt to Ecuador, from Russia to Rwanda, governments are increasingly harassing, detaining, imprisoning, and attacking activists and others for publicly opposing official policies or practices. At times, multinational corporations have even been complicit in such abuses. They have employed private security guards or supplied state security forces that have reportedly been implicated in human rights abuses in places like Nigeria, and used defamation laws to deter those who speak out about the human rights impact of their operations in Malaysia and other countries.
Businesses have a legal and ethical responsibility to respect freedom of expression. But for a variety of reasons, it is also in their long-term interest to support this basic right in the countries where they operate:
Freedom of expression ensures a level playing field for businesses
Journalists and civil society organizations that investigate and expose corruption help level the playing field for U.S. and other foreign companies in a given country, ensuring that all businesses play by the same rules....
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