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The Importance of Freedom of Expression in Pakistan

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Areeb Khawar

Freedom of speech, a fundamental right, allows individuals to freely express their ideas, thoughts, opinions, and expressions without government restrictions or censorship. This right, which empowers individuals to express themselves through speech, writing, media, or any other platform, has a rich historical significance. It emerged in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, and its power and importance were further amplified during the Enlightenment era. The idea of freedom of speech gained legal protection and was transformed into a law at the international level. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States underscores the importance of this act. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared freedom of speech a fundamental human right, stating, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Various International agreements have protected this right at the international level.
Besides these agreements, different institutes and organizations are working to promote and protect the freedom of speech. United Nations, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),
UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists, among others, are various international organizations that promote freedom of speech and expression. These organizations also provide strength to the media, work for the protection of journalists, and ensure their safety. In Pakistan, the HRCP, Freedom Network, Media Matters for Democracy, Pakistan Press Foundation, and several other organizations are working to support this fundamental human right. These organizations work for the freedom of speech and empower the media. These organizations ensure the right to freedom of speech and promote this through different agreements and movements. Various movements support this basic human right, including the Civil Rights Movement, which Martin Luther King Jr led.

It was about equal rights for both Americans and Africans. It was about social justice and equality, seeking equal rights for Africans (including the right to express thoughts and ideas freely).
Similarly, the Labor Movement (a movement led by workers asking for their just rights and to speak against unjust activities) also supported the demands of freedom of speech. The Lawyer’s Movement (for the independence of the judiciary) also endorsed the fundamental right of citizens to speak and express their thoughts freely. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan protects the freedom of speech and provides legal protection for this fundamental right. The human rights movement supported the idea of freedom of speech. Freedom of Information Act passed in 2002 in Pakistan aims to promote accountability by supporting citizens’ right to free speech. Media Freedom Movements (such as the Journalists Safety Hub) work to protect journalists and empower them to report freely.

Similarly, countries like Canada, Germany, France, India, and the USA provide legal protection to the concept of freedom of speech. However, there are different countries, such as Australia, where legal protection is not provided for this basic human right, but there are some laws that protect and promote freedom of speech. Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 10 of the ECHR promote freedom of speech and press.

In this digital age, freedom of speech is facing more challenges and has become complicated. People use different platforms to express their thoughts, such as Twitter(X). However, social media platforms are being misused. Sometimes, people spread information that is not based on facts or use hateful speech and messages that lead to chaos and make it more challenging. According to the latest World Press Freedom Index report, Pakistan has been ranked 150th out of 180 countries. This shows the facts regarding freedom of speech and the freedom of the press faced by people and journalists in this state. Different factors are responsible for Pakistan’s declining position. These factors may include online Censorship and Censorship laws by the government, lack of legal protection, repression caused by powerful authorities, and control of media and cultural norms. Journalists do not feel safe and cannot work freely. They face life threats and are reluctant to work with freedom. According to a report,53 journalists were killed in Pakistan between 2012 to 2022. Freedom of speech must be promoted throughout a state for better democracy. It is highly significant for the development of a democratic state. It plays a role in better democratic governance and leads to transparent governments. People can express their opinions about government policies, leading to a society’s development.

In short, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right and must not be violated. The state must ensure that every citizen can express his/her thoughts freely. Citizens should follow the rules and must not use hateful language and speech. Legal reforms should be made to promote freedom of speech. Freedom of the press and the safety of journalists should be promoted so that people can work without any restrictions or censorship.

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