Bangladesh is a pre-dominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia. It gained independence on December 16th, 1971 after a long and bitter liberation war against Pakistan. After that, a democratic government and a liberal constitution were adopted and a general election was held the following year. However, democratic progress was quickly curtailed when a trend towards authoritarianism began with one-party rule in 1975 and endured for 16 years. Eventually this regime was toppled in 1991, but the road to democracy and freedom of expression and speech has been long and hard fought.
The 1990’s marked a new era of freedom of expression and speech as granted in the Constitution. Despite these freedoms, the media and citizen face many challenges in performing their functions. Thus, while the media are a large sector and free in Bangladesh, members of the press and media routinely face violence or restrictions making it difficult to practice journalism or carry out media activities in a free manner. However, trends towards privatization of broadcasting and advertising have given the media greater independence than ever before.
Freedom of expression and speech means a citizen can think and express it in his/her own way without any single obligation. Freedom of expression is a number of mutually supporting rights including – freedom of thought, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the right to vote and is integral to other civil and political rights, such as the right to justice, and the right to take part in public affairs. Equally, the right to freedom of expression impacts on social and cultural rights such as the right to education.
Debate about freedom of expression is both wide reaching and constantly evolving in response to the development of the human mind, technological innovation and a globalized media, community practices and standards, and political and judicial responses. The more constant is the fundamental idea that freedom of expression is designed to protect and enhance democratic ideals.
In the field of freedom of express and speech relevant legal area is limited to its citizen and press; because the term exists within these. Executive body can take legal action in case they violate the law.
Freedom of the press is a fundamental right of all citizens as guaranteed in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Article 39 of the Constitution provides provision for press freedoms:
39 (1) Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the society 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 to freedom of speech and expression; and
(b) Freedom of the press is guaranteed.
So, according to the Bangladesh Constitution, a citizen can think whatever he or she wants, but he or she dare not say it, or express it, or publish it if it goes against the interests of “friendly relations with foreign states”.
Article 39 clearly states that freedom of thought and conscience is unlimited, but other freedoms such as speech and expression and freedom of the press are not without restrictions. The restrictions referred to in Article 39 assume action only by law. Without legislative authority, the executive cannot place any restriction or limitations on these freedoms. To impose a restriction, the legislature must make a law only for that purpose. While a citizen may exercise such rights in normal situations, extenuating circumstances may create compelling reasons to depart from the normal functions of the state.
While Article 39 addresses freedom of the press, Article 43 provides protection of privacy to the citizen.
Every citizen shall have the right, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, public order, public morality or public health-
(a) To be secured in his home against entry, search and seizure; and
(b) To the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication.
As interpreted, this provision limits the right of the press to enter private homes to get confidential information, interfere in a citizen’s secrets, or record private political discussions.
Besides the proclamation of emergency, other restrictions relating to the security of the state can be found in Article 39(2). It states the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press, but renders such freedoms subject to the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The Penal Code, Special Powers Act and the Contempt of Courts Act prescribe the punishment for violations that offend these press limits.
Article 33, which empowers the Government to detain anyone, including journalists, in prison, without trial for six months initially. This Article provides immunity to the Government against illegal confinement of a citizen.
In May 29, 2010- Bangladeshi government blocked Facebook and arrested one person for uploading satiric images of some politicians, including the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The person did this for making fun. The government’s act was against the constitution as it gives the freedom of speech. Educationist Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury said “The blocking of Facebook is by no means beneficial. Information should be free flowing. When that is hampered, people would only find more interest in finding ways to bypass it.” If we look at the other nation including USA we can easily find a funny picture of the president of USA. But they do not pay any heed on that. So what Bangladeshi government did is absolutely irrelevant.
Once an exhibition in Drik Gallery had suspended by Bangladeshi police that was government order. The exhibition was organized by ‘Students for a Free Tibet’, and includes some very rare photos of the Dalai Lama’s journey into exile. Actually this is the saddest reality of Bangladesh. It is a country that has been ostensibly independent since 1971 uses its shock troops in the service of powerful foreign governments.
Sometimes it may necessary to restrict freedom of expression and speech for the interest of our country. If freedom of expression and speech will have been practicing without any restriction it may breaks the country privacy. For instance, someone by chance get to know leaked news of the government. If that person transfer this leaked information to the specific country that may cause of breaking down their diplomatic relationship. We know that Wikileaks has published so many diplomatic information about USA and even Bangladeshi politics. That’s why USA arrested Julian Assange – the founder of Wikileaks. So, it is sometimes obvious to do that. But government should ensure the free flow of information and freedom of expression.
A common justification for the restrictions upon the liberty of individuals is the supposedly principal interests of efficient government and the public benefit. It is conveniently ignored that what constitutes “efficient government” and “public benefit” are independent concepts, the interpretation of which will be in the hands of legislators, bureaucrats and judges with human failings and feelings, lack of vision, imperfect knowledge and understanding, subjective views and personal prejudices. However, while public benefit is an important factor, the test for allowing further restrictions upon free speech should strive to be somewhat stricter. Legal restraints upon individual freedom of speech should only be tolerated where they are absolutely necessary to prevent infliction of actual harm or to secure the liberties of others. A more or less remote possibility that someone will be harmed or unbiased claims that the stability of society will be undermined is not sufficient justification for legal prohibition.
A balance must be struck between the ability of individuals to be unrestricted in the free expression of thoughts and ideas, and the need to ensure that governments are able to efficiently carry out their function of administration, law and order, and preserving the rights of individuals each other.
- Constitution of Bangladesh.