Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak or express without any objection or control. Freedom of expression implies the same meaning of freedom of speech but in addition, it includes the process of receive and express any information regardless the source of the information. It is said that freedom of speech is equal for everyone and it is important that people express their feelings, ideas, thoughts and demands. In many countries, the freedom of speech and expression is limited in some extent which includes offensive statements against the authority, provocation against authority, profanity against law or religion etc.
The right to freedom of expression is accepted as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and acknowledged in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). (Freedom Of speech, 2011). According to the article 19 of the ICCPR, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2011). It is clear from the international law and regulation that freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right for all the people all over the world. Despite these laws, declarations and covenants, the right is still restricted in many extents in many countries.
In the context of Bangladesh, freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right of all the citizen of the country. People have the right to express, to say whatever they have to say to express regarding any matter. It is not a privilege or benefit that comes with a price. Freedom of speech and expression is the right which is equal to all the human being. This right has been stated in the constitution which implies that it is the very basic and very important regulation. This particular law was entitled into the liberal constitution in 1972 when the constitution was adopted and implied.
Bangladesh is a democratic country. After the liberation war, country started as a democratic country and the constitution was implemented. Shortly after, democratic growth was promptly shortened when a trend towards dictatorship began with one party rule in 1975 and continued for 16 years. Finally this government was collapsed in 1991, but the road to democratic system and freedom of speech it still in a very crucial condition. Before returning to the democratic system in 1991, the freedom of speech and expression was restricted and in some extent still continuing. There were restrictions over public reaction and media due to political reasons and unfortunately it still continues. All the people have the right to speak freely and express freely. It is not a privilege, it is a right.
Restriction on freedom of speech and expression
Generally people understand that freedom of speech means the liberty to say whatever comes to mind or whatever makes sense. From one point of view, that is true; but if we look into a broader version, freedom of speech means to express the ideas which carries thoughts and logics. On the other hand, to express the thoughts, views, arguments, logics and points, people need a medium by which these can come into light. I can have many ideas but if there is no medium, I can’t express myself. The most significant, influential, effective and mass people covering medium is the media which includes print media, television, radio and internet. The media is the only way by which people can easily express their thoughts and ideas.
In 1973, one year after the publishing the constitution of Bangladesh, The Printing Presses and Publication (Declaration and Registration) Act was established. In 2001, the Dramatic Performance Act of 1876 was revoked and the copyright regulation of 1962 was adjusted and became a law in the year 2000. Cable Television Network Operation Act 2006 was introduces in that year and from that time, all private TV networks came under this law.
Part three of our constitution is all about fundamental rights. This part consists of section 26 to 47. All the basic and fundamental rights are mentioned here and it is important that people know about what their rights are. The particular section no 39 talks about the freedom of speech. The whole section is here –
“39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
1) Freedom or thought and conscience are guaranteed.
2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-
a) The right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression;
b) And freedom of the press, are guaranteed.” (Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1972)
It is clear that the freedom of thoughts, principles and speeches has been ensured in the constitution. Subsection 1 of section 39 clearly states that people of this country have the right to have free thoughts and principles. Then again, in the subsection 2 of section 39, clauses for restriction have been entitled on the way to imply freedom of speech.
Restriction means putting a block or limit or boundary or control over something. Restriction on freedom of speech and expression means the limitation or the control over expressing or saying thoughts and ideas. Authority with the power to put restriction over the freedom of speech uses the restriction whenever necessary.
Restriction over the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed on various grounds. The constitution provides us the freedom of speech under some clauses or conditions. There is some provision which implies that under some circumstances, the restriction over freedom of speech and expression can be implied. All these clauses like national security, international relationships, and moral reasons are valid and well thought reasons. Under this legislation, government can put control over the freedom of speech and expression under any circumstances and any time.
All these reasons are fair but sometimes the grounds are not very logical. Sometimes the authority uses their power to protect their own interest and uses these grounds to put restriction. In the context of our country, whenever necessary, the restriction comes over media because it is the only way to have mass public access and also the major source of expression. By the constitution and article 39 undoubtedly says that freedom of thought and principles is unlimited, but freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press are not without limitations. The limitation mentioned to in article 39 require action by law. Without governmental power, the administrative cannot put any constraint or limitations on these freedoms. To impose a restraint, the parliament may make an act only for that purpose. While a civilian can apply all his / her rights in a general condition, explanatory situation may create undeniable causes to create problems on the normal functions of the state.
Section nine of the constitution stated about the unusual or emergency circumstances. If the President believes that a crucial condition threatens the security or public life of the nation (it can be it war, outside hostility or internal turbulence), he may declare an urgent situation. When a crisis is issued, the rights established in articles 36 – 40 and 42 are suspended so that the state has no limitations on its capacity to create any new commandments or take any supervisory measures. During emergency, the administration has all the power. They can take any administrative decisions in spite of fundamental civil rights since the procedures of elementary civil rights remain suspended during an urgent situation. Besides the announcement of a crisis, other limitations relating to the security of the country can be found in article 39(2). The section of the constitution entitles the freedom of speech and expression, but provides such freedoms which related to the defense of the country, friendly relations with foreign countries, community order, decency or morality, contempt of court, offense or provocation to an offence. It is stated in different laws to stipulate the punishment for violations that offend these press limits.
So, according to the law and regulation, freedom of speech and expression can be controlled by the government under some logical ground. The fact is there are a lot of violation of freedom of speech and expression. There are some forces against it like religious people, conservative people, political power, corruption etc. Media and people have always been on the same page and expressed the thoughts on what is right and what is wrong. People via media stood against all the wrong doings and as a result, many news papers stopped publishing, several TV channel gone under, a lot of journalists has been harassed, attacked, threatened and killed. Some of these happened because of government, some of these happened by the opposition party and some of these happened by the terrorist. “Journalists are regularly harassed and violently attacked by a range of actors including organized crime groups, political parties and their supporters, government authorities, and leftist and Islamist militant groups. Most commonly, they are subjected to such attacks as a result of their coverage of corruption, criminal activity, political violence, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or human rights abuses. Police brutality towards photographers attempting to document protests or other political events also remained a concern.” (Democracy Audit – Press Freedom, 2011)
It is true that every law or regulation is important in some aspects. Section 39 of constitution of Bangladesh is one of the most important laws for us. We have a glorious yet sad 1952 because we didn’t have any right to express ourselves. We have the revolution in 1990 because there was restriction over expression and speech. So, whenever there was some sort of evil force bestowed upon this most important fundamental law, people reacted and went to the street to get the right for them. To the extent when the national security is at stake, the reputation of the country is at stake, public satisfaction and peace is at stake; then the freedom of speech can have some restrictions or boundaries. In reality, the freedom has been violated each and every day. Recently, governments have tried to put a legislation against the TV talk shows that criticizes the government and the policies. The initiative was failed because people still have the sense what is right and wrong. On the other hand, in a particular locality doesn’t receive a certain newspaper because of a certain political party stopped delivering that paper as that newspaper wrote against them. So, all these very little stories are the violation of freedom of speech and expression. Only government can put a hold on this freedom under some logical ground and emergency which are mentioned in the constitution and that’s it. No other can hamper or restrict the freedom of speech and expression at any cost.
There are several aspects of freedom of speech and expression which has a very important meaning for all the people of this country. In the constitution, under section 39, it is ensured that people will have the freedom of having free thoughts and ideas and the freedom of speech and expression under some condition. Section 32 of the constitution ensures the personal liberty and freedom of speech can be count as a personal liberty to any citizen. Section 44 entitles every citizen to file a case to claim this right. It is very important to understand all the rights and freedoms. Under section 39 (1), people can have free thinking and general principals which can define that particular citizen. Section 39 (2) defies the problems can occur if the freedom of speech goes out of control. Which implies that government kept some control overnight in case of emergency here freedom of speech and expression can be restricted?
As a part of the modern time, people of Bangladesh are familiar with a wide range of information and it is affecting all parts of life in all regions of the country. People have a lot easier access to the information now a day which has empowered women and the underprivileged; it has also created enthusiasm among all the people to take part in development process. However, the democratic practice results in better access to information should not hide the reality that the state still plays a large role in influencing the media. There are a number of obstructions blocking the way of useful media developments such as the country’s huge illiteracy rate, 48 percent for male and 71 percent for female. So, media can contribute in and for the society if got enough freedom.
People’s Republic of Bangladesh. (1972). Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Dhaka: People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Clive Lindley (Publisher), (2011). Democracy Audit – Press Freedom. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from World Audit: http://www.worldaudit.org/presstable.html
Freedom Of speech. (2011, October 10). Retrieved October 14, 2011, from www.wekipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2011). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
People’s Republic of Bangladesh. (1972). Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Dhaka: People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
 Constitution of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, 1972, retrieved on 14th October, 2011. Available at: Constitution of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, Dhaka.