Terror threats have been used by countries around the world to curtail freedom of expression and other human rights, lawyers at Chancery Lane heard today. 

Speaking at an event celebrating International Human Rights Day at the Law Society, human rights activist Mandira Sharma said that despite promises to protect freedom of expression, the gap between what has been promised and what happens in practice continues to widen.

Sharma, founder of the Nepalese Advocacy Forum, said that countries around the world have been curbing freedom of expression by introducing legislation on cybersecurity, information technology and terrorism.

As an example she told the audience about an incident in Bangladesh where an individual was prosecuted under the country’s Information and Communication Technology Act for publishing a report of mass killing in the country.

She added that for many years lawyers, and others involved in defending those accused of terrorism, have themselves been subject to terrorist sanctions.

‘The increasing threat of terrorism has been providing a cushion, even in countries like ours, to curtail freedom of expression and other human rights that we value so much,’ she said.

Today's Times newspaper publishes a letter from Law Society president Jonathan Smithers in which he calls on governments to ensure that lawyers can perform their professional duties ‘without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference’.

He states: ‘Just two weeks ago the human rights lawyer Tahir Elci (pictured) was assassinated in Turkey, this year alone 200 lawyers have been arrested in China. The Law Society urges governments across all international legal jurisdictions to do more to protect lawyers.’

He said that even in the UK fundamental rights are under threat, citing the draft investigatory powers bill which does not give statutory protection to legal professional privilege.

‘Clients may not be guaranteed the confidentiality that is vital to a fair trial,’ he said. ‘Legal professional privilege supports the process of law, speeding the conviction of the guilty and securing the acquittal of the innocent.’