The European Union's foreign ministers issued a statement on Thursday reiterating the rights of whistleblowing websites such as Wikileaks.
The Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe's decision-making body comprising the foreign affairs ministers of all 27 E.U. countries, alerted its member states about the risks of pressure and attacks on new media, whistleblowers and human-rights-defenders websites.
The committee is concerned that politically motivated pressure on Internet platforms and online service providers could undermine the rights to freedom of expression and association that are guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ministers said in a statement that although privately operated, independent media, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and dissidents play a significant part in facilitating debate on issues of public interest, "in some cases, they can fulfill the role of a social watchdog."
"People, notably civil society representatives, increasingly rely on social networks, blogging websites and other means of mass communication to access and exchange information, publish content, interact, communicate and associate with each other," said the ministers.
The committee also expressed concern about the threat to these rights caused by cyberattacks against such websites. "Companies that provide Web hosting services lack the incentive to continue hosting those websites if they fear that the latter will come under attack or if their content may be regarded as sensitive.
"Furthermore, the companies concerned are not immune from undue interference; their decisions sometimes stem from direct political pressure or from politically motivated economic compulsion, invoking justification on the basis of compliance with their terms of service. Human rights standards should be applied in situations where there is interference with Internet content and with access to websites hosting it, as well as with online community interactions," said the ministers' statement.