India joins G7, 4 others to protect free speech, ‘online and offline’

India, along with G7 countries and four invited countries, Monday signed the ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’ in which they committed to “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”.

A four-page statement, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the G-7 summit in Germany, said, “We, the Leaders of Germany, Argentina, Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Senegal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union, affirm our commitment to strengthening the resilience of our democracies.”

“We hail all courageous defenders of democratic systems that stand against oppression and violence, and will step up international cooperation to improve the resilience of democratic societies globally,” it stated.

The signatories said that democracies enable “open public debate, independent and pluralistic media” and the “free flow of information online and offline”, fostering legitimacy, transparency, responsibility and accountability for citizens and elected representatives alike.

And that they are prepared to defend these principles and are resolved to:

* Protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensuring a free and independent media landscape through our work with relevant international initiatives.

* Ensuring an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.

* Increasing the cyber resilience of digital infrastructure, including by improving and sharing awareness of cyber threats and expanding cyber response cooperation.

* Countering hybrid threats, in particular information manipulation and interference, including disinformation.

* Cooperating to counter information manipulation, promote accurate information, and advocate for our shared democratic values worldwide.

* Promoting affordable access to diverse sources of reliable and trustworthy information and data, online and offline, including through a multi-stakeholder approach, and by strengthening digital skills and digital literacy.

* Enhancing transparency about the actions of online platforms to combat violent, extremist and inciting content online.

The statement said that democracies lay and protect the foundations for free and vibrant civic spaces, enabling and encouraging civic engagement and political participation, which in turn stimulate meaningful legitimacy, creativity, innovation, social accountability, and responsibility.

It said, “We commit to:

* Guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors, speaking out against threats to civic space, and respecting freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

* Building resilience against malign foreign interference and acts of transnational repression that seek to undermine trust in government, society and media, reduce civic space and silence critical voices.

* Advancing programmes for the protection of human rights defenders and all those exposing corruption.

It said that democracies promote solidarity and non-discriminatory, diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive environments, enabling fair representation and political participation.

The countries also committed to “protecting freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and promoting inter-faith dialogue” and “promoting social cohesion, solidarity and the inclusion of all members of society online and offline, while denouncing all forms of discrimination and violence”.

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