Freedom of speech is a right withheld in almost every country in the world. It is a basic fundamental right on which societies are based on. It is one of the components of the basic Human Rights each individual is entitled to. Like all countries of the world, the Bangladesh Constitution contains this right within itself as well. The right to freedom of speech lies in the 3rd part of the Constitution, under Fundamental Rights. It is headlines as ‘Freedom of thought and conscience and of speech’. It states that, ‘Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed. Freedom of thought and conscience and of speech. Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of 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:
- The right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression: and
- Freedom of the press, are guaranteed’(Bangladesh Constitution)(1)
This right entitles the people to express their thoughts and opinions without discretion or censorship. Being a democracy, this right is extremely important and is vital for the governance of Bangladesh. However, we can see that it has been explained in the Constitution that there are some restrictions to this right. Besides that, there are several factors at play in our society which are hampering our right to freedom of speech. In the following paragraphs I shall explore these restrictions and also look at exactly how much of this right is enjoyed by the people of Bangladesh.
The Constitution and the people
The Constitution of a country is created in order to provide authority to the government, outline the limits of their power as well as disclosing the rights of its citizens. The Constitution is the foundation of a nation. (2) From the proclamation of freedom of speech described in the Constitution of Bangladesh we can see that it is subject to some restrictions. It is indicated that this right can be manipulated according to certain situations. If the Constitution implies that the citizens of Bangladesh are allowed to practice freedom of speech, manipulating this right does not fully commit to its meaning. Speech, thought and expression are basic human behaviors which all individuals display. It is because these things are such fundamental parts of our life that freedom of speech is imposed and why it is so important. Subjecting this right to some conditions takes away this right from the people to an extent.
As Dicey has stated, according to the rule of law all citizens of a country are subject to the law. Thus, all elected government officials fall under this category as well. (3) So, to include a clause in the Constitution which will enable these officials to restrict the right of the people is serving inequality among the citizens of the country.
Bangladesh is a democracy. The main point of a democracy is that the voice and opinions of the people are shared, heard and taken into consideration. This is one of the main reasons why this right is important in a country such as Bangladesh. However, we know that the government has the power to restrict this right under certain conditions. This will disable the people of the country to influence the decisions that go into running this country. Also, political parties could use these restrictions to limit the public’s involvement in certain aspects, according to their will. Political parties could restrict freedom of speech in order to turn things in their favor. This defeats the entire purpose of a democracy.
The Constitution also states that freedom of press is granted for all citizens. However, there are several instances in the course of the history of Bangladesh in which we see that this right has been restricted. The government of Bangladesh has repeatedly tried to shut down certain media outlets and in some cases succeeded. In the last four years, the government of Bangladesh has shut down the newspaper publication Amar Desh, TV channels Channel 1 and Jamuna and has also temporarily shut down the social media site Facebook and YouTube. There have also been several deaths of journalists reported throughout this time. So, we can see that freedom of press is not properly exercised in Bangladesh. (4) Although the media is able to express themselves there seems to be severe negative effects for those who are not biased towards the current government. This discourages media from expressing their views and takes away their freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech in the media
Freedom of expression is also included in the Constitution. This means that the people have the right to let their thoughts, opinions and views be known. However, like all the other aspects of this right, freedom of expression can be restricted as well. Such was the case on 1st November 2009 when police prevented an exhibition at Drik Gallery of Dhaka titled ‘Free Tibet’.(5) It is speculated that this freedom of expression of the people was disrupted in order to curry political favors with China. As outlined in the Constitution, this right can be restricted in order to maintain good relations with foreign states. However, this is taking away the citizens right of expression and also placing government officials above the general public which is once again violating the rule of law.
Besides limitations of this right expressed in the Constitution, several other factors play a role in restricting this right. Corruption is the root of these restrictions. The country of Bangladesh is plagued with corruption in every sector of the country. This enables an ample amount of crime to go about unnoticed. Many individuals do not express their opinions and views in fear of being physically abused. Besides that they also face threats to themselves, their families, properties, etc.
Also, a large chunk of the Bangladeshi population is uneducated. This means that there are a large number of people in Bangladesh who are completely unaware of their rights and amendments. So, these people are rarely able to practice their rights including the right to freedom of speech.
There are also some social taboos in play in our society which prevent people from voicing their opinions. As Bangladesh is a very conservative and religious country there are many subjects which evoke controversy among the people. Many individuals do not voice opinions and questions about topics such as religion, sex, etc. as it is a very fragile topic, which tends to offend a majority of the population. In this case freedom of speech is not exercised.
There are several negatives to be considered when we look at the aspect of freedom of speech in Bangladesh. However, freedom of speech is withheld well to a certain extent as well. The people of Bangladesh thoroughly enjoy a plethora of outlets when expressing opinions. There are several channels which express the views of the public alongside several newspaper publications.
As we have seen, freedom of speech is a right which exists for the people of Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh enjoy this right in various ways and also through various media outlets. However, we can see that the Constitution in itself subjects this right to certain conditions. This limits the availability of this right for the people of Bangladesh. Besides that, the reality remains that due to massive widespread corruption and conservative mindset of Bangladesh, freedom of speech is quite limited. The government of Bangladesh must come out of the shadows of corruption and enable the people to fully exercise their rights. The government must also promote awareness of the Constitution. The government must work to educate the people and make them aware of their rights. Finally, the media should be allowed to express their viewpoints from a completely neutral point of view. Media should be able to exist without government involvement. These are only some solutions which could be taken into consideration in order to enable the people to enjoy their right properly. In reality the government of Bangladesh needs to work really hard in order to provide the citizens with not only freedom of speech, but to ensure that they can enjoy all their rights. If the citizens are not able to enjoy their rights it will only cause turmoil amongst us and that will be the downfall of our democracy.
Word Count: 1510 words
- 1. Bangladesh Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.banglaembassy.com.bh/Constitution.html
- What is a Constitution? Retrieved from http://legalsutra.org/1598/what-is-a-constitution/
- Sen, A.K., & Mitra, J.K. (1956). Commercial Law and Industrial Law (S. Mukherjee, Ed) (23rd ed.). Kolkata, India: D. Chakraborty.
- Akash, J.A. (2010, June 2). Freedom of speech and press are reducing in Bangladesh [Supplemental material]. The Human Rights Today. Retrieved from: http://thehumanrightstoday.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/freedom-of-speech-and-press-have-been-reducing-in-bangladesh/
- Police prevent Tibet photo exhibition (2009, November 1), bdnews24, Retrieved from: www.bdnews24.com