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I was deeply moved to say the least after reading this article posted below. The Author is the editor of the Srilankan Sunday Leader and was shot dead. This article was published in the Guardian three days after his death.

This blog has been a believer in free speech and this article helps us in spreading that message.

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I HOPE MY MURDER WILL NOT BE SEEN AS A DEFEAT OF FREEDOM BUT AN INSPIRATION

Lasantha Wickrematunge

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces – and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the last few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print institutions have been burned, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories, and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be the Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood.

Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries.

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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.

In September, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the State law that prosecuted those involved in sending spam emails was unconstitutional and in violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution that guaranteed free speech. The judgment used a rationale that doesn’t make much sense to me ;

“As Justice (G. Steven) Agee said in the court’s opinion, if the Federalist Papers were written today and disseminated by e-mail, the sender would be guilty of a felony under Virginia’s anti-spam statute”

With more than 1 billion spam emails sent out in a year, it is estimated a spam network rakes in somewhere to the amount of $3.5 million each product. While the statute has been declared unconstitutional, the Attorney General for the State has decided to take the matter upto the Supreme Court and ask the decision to be reversed.

Earlier, the ACLU president commenting on the judgment stated;

“”The internet is a uniquely democratizing public forum that provides ordinary people with an outlet to express a wide variety of opinions. Some of those views may be controversial, making anonymity or the use of pseudonyms essential for giving those ideas fair consideration in public debates. Speech on the Internet deserves no less First Amendment protection than in any other medium.”