Freedom of speech

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Nothing can be more devastating for the norms of a democratic society than the savage crackdown, just to gag dissentient elements. Hence freedom of speech is of immense significance, and it also presupposes that what one says must be of some value and must not be devoid of reasonableness to get into the cover of protected speech and a fundamental right. Nelson Mandela (1990) has aptly remarked to sufficiently indicate the significance of basic human rights, i.e., “To deny people, their human rights, is to challenge their very humanity.” The contemporary world has reached a unanimous consensus as to the hierarchy of rights, and freedom of speech unequivocally takes priority Freedom of speech is primarily the right to think, act or express as one likes, as well as the right to impart, receive or seek ideas or information without any fear or unreasonable interference. Free speech is a fundamental right that is mentioned in every single constitution in the world. The same is also guaranteed by Article 19 of the Pakistani Constitution of 1973. Similar to this, the first amendment of the American Constitution guarantees Americans’ right to free speech. The right to free speech is also protected under Article 10 of the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act and by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every citizen of Pakistan is guaranteed freedom of speech under Article 19 of the 1973 Pakistan Constitution, which can be exercised both individually and collectively. Under Article 19, the freedom of the press, including print and electronic media, has been explicitly protected. Yet freedom on the anvil is not absolute freedom. As a single sentence guaranteeing this freedom also obligates its beneficiaries to certain “reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. Here come confrontations and limitations witnessed by many of us many times. Law of Defamation, Law of Contempt of Court, Anti-Hate Laws to prevent hate propaganda, Laws as to Fighting Words, Blasphemy Laws, Censorship related laws and laws to counter obscenity etc., are glaring examples of limitations on the freedom of speech. Limitations must not be there to facilitate a crackdown on civil liberties or to stifle dissent. Stifled or outlawed dissent is most probably to go underground and fester, culminating in a potential threat to durable peace across the globe. The only way out is not to let these limitations become a risky tool.

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