Civic Spaces: Backbone of a Civilized Society

Civic spaces refer to a set of rules and regulations that regulate behaviour in a particular society by removing hindrances in interpersonal communication, organization, and social participation, thereby influencing the social and political structure of the community. A civic space ensures the existence of a civilized society by codifying behavioural rules, which ensure that peace and harmony form the basis of social interactions. [i]

A comparison between the civic space laws of different nations can provide a fair idea about how the laws of the land have been shaped by the societal norms of the regions [ii]

BRAZIL

Brazil’s legal framework regarding civic spaces not only covers the rights and duties offline but also extends to the online presence of its citizens employing the right to privacy and freedom of natural persons. [iii] The Constitution protects the right to information [iv], freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, right to privacy, right to press freedom, right against discrimination, and right to equality. These rights form the pillars of a civilized society in Brazil.

Right to information, under article 5 (XXIII) of the Brazilian constitution, mandates state bodies to provide access to the information that the public has a right to know. The public administration is the body that is legally obligated to maintain governmental records and documents and ensure their availability on the forums accessible to the general public.

Article 5 also includes the Freedom of Expression under,

➔ Article 5(II) (right to abstain from actions not enforced by the law) [v]

➔ Article 5(IV) (forbiddance of anonymity in the manifestation of thought) [vi]

➔ Article 5(V) (right of proportionate reply) [vii]

➔ Article 5(IX) (right against censorship) [viii]

➔ Article 5(XIII) (Right to Freedom of Profession) [ix]

➔ Article 5(XLI) (Right against discrimination) [x]

These freedoms allow the citizens to be at liberty and also place reasonable restrictions on these liberties to ensure that one man’s liberty does not encroach upon the liberty of another.

Freedom of Assembly as provided by article 5(XVI) places a similar restriction on the citizens. The right against discrimination makes both the government as well as the citizens liable to treat the people of Brazil with respect and dignity and forbids differential treatment of citizens based on sex, religion, race, origin, etc. [xi]

In addition to the aforementioned rights, citizens have certain rights and duties on the online forums as well. A landmark ruling in 2020 framed data security to be a fundamental right with a vote of 10-1. [xii] This comprehensive legislation concerning offline and online spaces has allowed the Brazilian society to function with peace and harmony based on well-formulated laws and regulations.

FINLAND

Like Brazil, Finland’s constitution also provides for rights such as access to governmental information, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, freedom of the press, etc. [xiii]

These rights are not absolute and are subject to reasonable exceptions. The laws prescribing these restrictions and exemptions must be free from ambiguity and have to be precise, as ruled by the Supreme Court of Finland, along with the European Court of Human Rights. [xiv] Access to government information, enshrined under Article 12 of the constitution, allows access to governmental information except for those protected via secrecy laws.

Similarly, the freedom of expression and freedom of the press under Article 12 of the Finnish constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows people to broadcast their opinions, views, and ideas with reasonable restrictions. Besides, press freedom is regulated by Article 10 of the ECHR and through specific legislation like the Act on Freedom of Expression in Mass Communications. [xv]

As nations begin to recognize online platforms as legitimate places of expression of opinions that have real-life impacts, there is growing legislation governing the internet.

The right to privacy is guaranteed to the residents of Finland in Article 10 [xvi]. Open Internet (i.e., measures to ensure a free, neutral, decentralized internet) is not specifically addressed in the Finnish Constitution. However, access to the internet is a legal right in Finland. [xvii] Under Finnish law, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are obliged to provide access to the internet throughout Finland, at a reasonable price, as it qualifies as a public utility.

MOROCCO

Morocco’s legal framework safeguards certain rights and provisions concerning civic space. The rights of the nation’s citizens are protected, as the country is bound by international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

The Constitution of Morocco allows the right to access government information. [xviii] However, information concerning matters of national defence, security of the state, or the private information of persons cannot be accessed under this right. [xix]

Freedom of the press is protected under Law No. 13.88 of 2016, which also defines exceptions for the same. [xx] The law prohibits the publication of confidential information [xxi], derogatory statements against Islam, the Kingdom [xxii], heads of state and foreign ministers of other countries, news that may incite crime or felony, and false news [xxiii].

The Constitution also allows data protection and privacy of citizens, under Law No. 121.12 [xxiv] on Telecommunications and Law No. 09.08 on Protection of Personal Data [xxv]. The National Commission to Monitor the Protection of Personal Data regulates the usage of data and ensures privacy and protection. [xxvi] The Constitution states that equal rights and freedom in all spheres are to be given to both men and women. However, the Morrocan law of inheritance allows a woman to inherit only half of a man’s share.

TUNISIA

Civic rights and freedom in Tunisia, like Morocco, are governed and protected by international conventions [xxvii], as well as its Constitution.

The right to access information in government documents is protected by the constitution and Decree-Law No. 41 of 2011[xxviii] and Law No. 22 of 2016 [xxix], which allow access to documents of public bodies and information other than classified or private information.

Freedom of expression and the press is regulated by Law No. 115 of 2011 [xxx] and also provides for this right in the field of published work, books, articles, etc. The law also lays down certain acts which are considered offences, if committed by the press, like false and harmful news is prohibited under Articles 121[xxxi] and 128 of the Penal Code [xxxii].

The Constitution also guarantees the right to assembly and peaceful demonstration while applying certain restrictions and regulations on the same, under Law No. 69-4 of 1969 [xxxiii], which states that prior notice has to be given to the concerned authorities.

Personal data of citizens is protected under Law No. 63 of 2004 [xxxiv] and the Code of Criminal Procedures, which also protects the privacy of an individual. Illegal surveillance operations are punishable under Law No. 61 of 2016 [xxxv].

Anti-discrimination and gender equality laws in Tunisia underwent a drastic change recently. In 2019, a Bill was approved that allowed female heirs to inherit equal shares as their male counterparts [xxxvi], while most Arab countries follow the Islamic law, which allows a female to inherit only half of a male heir’s share.

Law No. 50 of 2018 prohibits all forms of racism and mandates punishment for anyone engaging in acts of racial discrimination [xxxvii]. The law also mandates the formation of the National Committee to Combat Discrimination [xxxviii].

CONCLUSION

These rights provided under the framework of civic spaces form the backbone of any civilized society. These nations have ensured that the laws of the land maintain peace and harmony amongst the people and ensure cordial interpersonal relations to the best of the state's capacity. These nations have thus come a long way and might still have a long way to go.



[i] What is civic space? - CIVICUS - Tracking conditions for citizen action Civicus.org, https://monitor.civicus.org/whatiscivicspace/ (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[ii] Brazil Finland et al., Civic Space Legal Framework () (2020), https://www.loc.gov/law/help/civic-space/civic-space.pdf (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[iii] Constituição Perma.cc, https://perma.cc/M27W-YDDQ (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[iv] Id. art. 5 (§ 41)

[v] Id. art. 10(§ 2)

[vi] Id. art. 5(§ 4)

[vii] Id. art. 10(§ 2)

[viii] Id. art. 15(§11)

[ix] Id. art. 15(§13)

[x] Id. art. 15(§41)

[xi] Id. art. 3(§4)

[xii] A Landmark Ruling in Brazil: Paving the Way for Considering Data Protection as an Autonomous Fundamental Right - Future of Privacy Forum, https://fpf.org/blog/a-landmark-ruling-in-brazil-paving-the-way-for-considering-data-protection-as-an-autonomous-fundamental-right/ (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[xiii] Finlands grundlag, https://perma.cc/Q4R6-BJX8. (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[xiv] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2012 O.J. (C 326/391), https://eurlex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:12012P/TXT

[xv] Lag om yttrandefrihet I masskommunikation (Act on Freedom of Expression in Mass Communications), https://perma.cc/G826-BXHC (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[xvi] 10 § Finland’s grundlag

Lag om yttrandefrihet I masskommunikation (Act on Freedom of Expression in Mass Communications), https://perma.cc/G826-BXHC (last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[xvii] Finland Makes Broadband a “Legal Right” (July 1, 2010) https://perma.cc/X32H-2UAG(last visited Mar 10, 2021)

[xviii] Morocco Const. of 2011, art. 27, para. 1, https://perma.cc/RCL3-JHWE (in Arabic).

[xix] Id. para. 2.

[xx] Law No. 13.88 of 2016, art. 2, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 6491, 15 Aug. 2016, https://perma.cc/4VMLBTNT (in Arabic).

[xxi] Id. art. 6.

[xxii] Id. art. 31.

[xxiii] Id. art. 71

[xxiv] Law No. 121.12 of 2019 amending Law No. 24-96, art. 26, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 6753, 18 Feb. 2019, https://perma.cc/V2YP-25EJ (in Arabic)

[xxv] Law No. 09.08 of 2009, art. 1(1), Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 5711, 23 Feb. 2009, https://perma.cc/YN3B6J87 (in Arabic).

[xxvi] Id. art. 27.

[xxvii] International Covenant on Civil and Political Right, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171.

[xxviii] Law No. 41 of 2011, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 039, 31 May 2011, https://perma.cc/9W8T-TFMZ (in Arabic).

[xxix] Law No. 22 of 2016, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 26, 29 Mar. 2016, https://perma.cc/ME9H-45ZH (in Arabic).

[xxx] Law No. 115 of 2011, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 84, 4 Nov. 2018, https://perma.cc/CR9R-HP2C (in Arabic).

[xxxi] Penal Code of 1913, as amended by Law No. 43 of 2001, art. 121(3), Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 36, 4 May 2001, https://perma.cc/93ZM-JD6A (in Arabic)

[xxxii] Penal Code of 1913, as amended, art. 128, https://perma.cc/CU3N-QMCP (in Arabic).

[xxxiii] Law No. 69-4 of 1969, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 28, 31 June 1969, https://perma.cc/ZZP4-AKQH (in Arabic).

[xxxiv] Law No. 63 of 2004, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 061, 30 July 2004, https://perma.cc/52HG-PRMF (in Arabic).

[xxxv] Law No. 61 of 2016, art. 42, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 66, 12 Aug. 2016, https://perma.cc/HFG9-2KUH (in Arabic).

[xxxvi] Tunisia Becomes the First Arab Nation to Approve Gender Equality in Inheritance Law, DhakaTribune (Nov. 25, 2018), https://perma.cc/U7RW-EB83.

[xxxvii] Law No. 50 of 2018, art. 2, Al-Jaridah Al-Rasmiyah, vol. 86, 26 Oct. 2018, https://perma.cc/PPF3-4RZV (in Arabic)

[xxxviii] Id, art. 11.

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