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In Defense of Freedom of Speech and Expression

by Rinku Khumukcham
0 comment 4 minutes read

IT Desk
Imphal, Aug 21:

Freedom is the fountain of democracy. Democratic values would have no meaning without freedom. It is inherent rights of human beings and the recognition of which is the precondition not only for the development and progress of mankind but also for maintenance of everlasting peace and security in the world. The history of mankind is the struggle for emancipation of man from exploitation, subjugation, suppression and oppression. All the major wars of the world broke out of the contestation of weaker groups against subjugation and oppression of the stronger. It was true in the past and will also be true in the future. The end of the Second World War begins a new history for mankind in terms of respect for human rights and fundamental freedom for all irrespective of caste, creed, race, place of birth, religion etc.. Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and expression constitute the most important component of the concept of freedom. Such right is guaranteed in the International Bill of rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 proclaims that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which rights includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which spells out the right of individual to express his opinion, has been considered as the customary rules of international law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR) is a legally binding human rights document adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. The covenant also recognizes and guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression with imposition of certain duties and responsibility to those who exercises the said right. Article 19 (1) and (2) of ICCPR, 1966 stipulates that everyone shall have the right to hold opinion without interference and shall have right to freedom of expression; this rights includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, whether, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or the rough any other media of his choice. It is also stated in the said article of ICCPR that the exercise of this rights shall not violate the rights or reputation of others and shall not be against the protection of national securities or public order, or of public health or morals. Hence, state parties to the conventions including India has international obligation to respect for and abide by the provisions of ICCPR.
It is worthwhile to mention that India happens to be the largest democratic country in the world by virtue of its vast population. Her constitution also guarantees and recognizes the freedom of speech and expression as fundamental rights of the citizens of India with certain limitations. Article 19(1) of the constitution guarantees six fundamental freedoms to the citizens of India. Clause (a) of article 19 provides that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. As the right is not absolutes, state can impose reasonable restriction in exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, The security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, moralities or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Mahboob Ali Baig aptly observed the importance of fundamental rights and the freedom of speech and expression in constituent assembly debate in such a way that fundamental rights are fundamental, permanent, and sacred and ought to be guaranteed against coercive power of the state by excluding the jurisdiction of the executive and the legislature. It was the independent judiciary of the state that had to judge whether a certain citizen had overstepped the limits so as to endanger the safety of the state as is recognized by the framers of the American constitution.
The strength and success of democracy lies in creating conducive atmosphere for moulding healthy public opinion and such opinion is normally expressed in free media. That is the reason for guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression as well as freedom of press in all democratic countries and describing media as the fourth pillar of democracy. The attempt to narrowing the democratic space to create sound public opinion down by the democratically elected government with issuance of restriction orders shall constitute the denial of the freedom of speech and expression.
The same shall also constitute mulling freedom of press in the sense that there is no meaning of press if it could not create sound public opinion which actually connects ruled with the ruler for effective governance. Unmindful of such value inherent in freedom of speech and expression marks the beginning of decay of democracy in a society which ultimately shall have ill effect in all aspect of society. On the other hand, considering peculiar situation of Manipur, media ought to realise the social responsibility of publishing any news items and broadcasting programme laden with unhealthy political tone which may create chaos in the society.

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