WESTERNERS TEND to regard freedom of speech as a universal good. However, a forthcoming report by Justitia, a Danish think-tank, demonstrates that public support for freedom of expression varies widely among countries, just as legal restraints on speech do. In many countries, particularly authoritarian regimes, people say they want fewer controls. But perhaps surprisingly, in a handful of places poll respondents suggest they want less freedom than they currently have.

The report is based on a survey conducted in February of 50,000 people in 33 countries. The researchers asked respondents whether they believed that a wide range of controversial statements, such as insulting the national flag or making offensive comments about minority groups or religious beliefs, should be permitted. They combined the average responses to each of these questions into an index of support for free speech. They then compared these scores with an index of freedom of expression compiled by V-Dem, another think-tank, which measures how much liberty people in each country enjoy in practice.

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