Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Freedom of Expression Roundtable

SEPTEMBER 19, 2022

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Before we begin, let me just take a moment to again welcome the safe return of Mark Frerichs, an American Navy veteran who spent more than two and a half years in captivity in Afghanistan. His return is the culmination of many, many months of tireless and effective work by so many colleagues in our government. I especially want to extend thanks to our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, who’s actually with Mark as we speak, and to our Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West.

Many national security professionals across the government gave their all to this effort to get Mark out of captivity and ultimately to bring him home, and I want to thank all the people who’ve worked on this over these many months. We care about Mark and we’re profoundly grateful to them. The support that we received from our Qatari partners as well was key in securing his release.

Mark is soon going to be reunited with his family. The President had an opportunity to speak to them a few hours ago. I want the families of Americans who are being arbitrarily detained or held hostage anywhere in the world to know that our commitment to them in bringing their loved ones home is resolute and we will relentlessly continue to focus on doing just that. We bring the same determination and focus to those efforts as we brought to the effort to bring Mark Frerichs out of captivity and home to his loved ones.

For the United States, for me personally, there is no higher priority than bringing Americans who are being arbitrarily and unjustly detained, held hostage, back home to freedom, to their families. We’ll continue to work this relentlessly and secure the release of all Americans who are being unjustly held wherever that’s the case. We mean what we say: Mark’s family had my word; every other family has my word as well.

With that, I also want to say how pleased we are to be with some extraordinary colleagues today. And it’s fitting that we’re opening the High-Level Week here at the United Nations with an event, a conversation, focused on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It’s also particularly fitting that we’re doing it at the Foreign Press Center, which actually embodies both of those principles. Our commitment, the United States commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, is unwavering, and it’s unwavering because it’s the bedrock of a healthy democracy.

Increasingly, though, we see these freedoms as under threat – under threat from censorship, from surveillance, from restrictive laws, from propaganda, the use of detention and prosecution, of violence, and we see this quite literally around the world. Even as we condemn the efforts to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press, we’re determined to do everything we can to uphold them, including with a number of important U.S. programs that we’ll have an opportunity to discuss today with our colleagues that do just that.

But let me conclude by saying – by saying this: Virtually everything that we’re doing here this week at the United Nations, the issues that we’re putting a spotlight on, from food insecurity to climate to global health, we couldn’t do this without the information, the illumination that freedom of expression and freedom of the press bring to these and every other challenging issue around the globe. The work of the United Nations, the work of our own foreign policy and diplomacy, would be dramatically undermined in a world where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are under threat, under challenge, in decline.

So we have a real stake in upholding these principles, in making real defending them against those who seek to dilute them, diminish them, eliminate them. Mostly I’m anxious to hear from all of our colleagues who have in various ways shown extraordinary courage in upholding these principles around the world. I’m anxious to hear from them their experiences and their ideas for what more we can do to support, defend, protect freedom of expression and free press.

With that, I thank you.