Begging Bans are an Attack on Freedom of Expression in Europe
By Jonathan Lee
For many Europeans, their perception of Roma is limited to the people, often women, whom they see in city centres begging for money on the streets. The response to begging has been varied in different countries. But often the reaction has been to introduce legislation which criminalises this act, and the people doing it. In effect, criminalising poverty and infringing on the freedom of expression of poor people who are more often than not, Roma.
Countries like the Austria, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Romania and the United Kingdom have laws in place which makes it illegal for poor people to ask the public for money.
We at the ERRC believe that begging is a form of freedom of expression, and actions to legislate against it are contrary to this freedom, and often specifically targeted at Romani people. Removing the agency of Roma, and limiting their free expression is one of the many faces of the antigypsyism which permeates our European societies.
Between 2015 and 2017, the ERRC intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in cases focusing on the relationship between racism against Roma and freedom of expression in Europe. These interventions demonstrated that the Roma themselves must be able to rely on their freedom of expression in their resistance to oppression and racial hatred.
Two months ago, our work was recognised by Columbia University in the United States, who awarded us their Global Freedom of Expression Award for excellence in legal service. .
They made this fantastic video about us which showcases some of our legal work challenging antigypsyism and measures which limit freedom of expression.
We are honoured to be selected for this award, and encouraged that Colombia University have recognised the criminalisation of begging as an attack on freedom of expression.