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United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has called for a world ban on anyone defaming any religion. According to him, while there does exist a right to free speech and expression, the international community should aim towards the comity of religions. Notably,  there is a steady and worrisome trend of stories in Western countries restricting free speech in the name of tolerance of religion, sexual orientation and other values.For instance, in September criminal charges filed against leading French author Pierre Péan, who is charged with racial hatred for derogatory things said about Tutsis in a book in a book about Rwandan genocide.

Jonathan Turley puts forth the idea that this comment by the UNGA President is not way out of line as many Islamic states prosecute people for blasphemy and even issue fatwas against those who speak foul against their religion. He states;

A suspended Nicaraguan priest, D’Escoto is little concerned about the devastating blow to free speech and free press in such a rule — dangers already realized in various countries where speaking against a religion has resulted in criminal penalties and even death. In making this outrageous call, D’Escoto has given critics of international legal systems a great boost — showing the dangers of such rules in restricting cherished constitutional rights.

Looking at this in the context of Indian Law, the Indian Penal Code contains a series of sections from 295 where in words/ acts ‘deliberately’ said so as to hurt the feelings of any religion are a crime and punishable in law. However, in a series of case law, the Court has said that such acts would only constitute a crime when it is done ‘deliberately’, i.e. with an intent and tending to disrupt public order. This law is more of a synthesis between free speech and religious concerns.

The actions of the President, when not seen in isolation, as evidence to a general movement towards placing restrictions on rights in the name of public order and state security. We have seen that happening in India, the United States, UK and now coming from the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Mark Felt, former FBI officer who revealed himself to be the key informant in exposing the Watergate Scandal (‘Deep Throat’), has died.

Felt, 95, breathed his last yesterday in a clinic close to his home in Santa Rosa, California. During the years of the scandal he was one of the highest ranking officers in the FBI, instrumental in investigating the break-ins and burglary at the Democratic National Office in Watergate Complex. The investigation subsequently uncovered a nebulous network of campaign fraud, illegal tax audits, political espionage and wiretapping associated with Nixon’s Re-election Committee; mounting bipartisan political pressure coupled with a series of futile court battles forced the President to resign in 1974.
Many of you might have seen Hal Holbrook’s performance as ‘Deep Throat’ in the famous movie ‘All the President’s Men’. Deep Throat’s identity was kept anonymous for 30 years by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, until Mr. Felt himself revealed his informant status in 2005.

‘Deep Throat’ remains a legendary figure in investigative journalism circles and continues to be an inspiring icon for righteous officers of the State. Felt himself had come under heavy criticism for being a ‘traitor’ and letting down the Commander-in-Chief; many attributed his opposition to the President’s scheme to vindictiveness, for being superseded in the FBI Directorate by Nixon’s close political associate. However, there were many who disagreed.

As he himself wrote later,

The President wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover’s position who would convert the bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.

Individuals like Felt are a rarity in today’s bureaucratic set-up; the extant legal regime must ensure that whistle-blowers and vanguards against corrupt official practices are protected.

To quote the American prosecutor, John Nields, from The Washington Post in 2005,

As Deep Throat, Felt helped establish the principle that our highest government officials are subject to the Constitution and the laws of the land.