Freedom of Expression – A myth

Ali Abbas

The writer is a mass communication student at Karachi University.

Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, states that every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the Press, subject to any reasonable restriction, imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or in relation to contempt of court or incitement to offence.

Freedom of expression is globally recognized as the foundation of human rights. In other words, freedom of expression assures citizens to participate effectively in the functioning of democracy.

But do we enjoy the freedom of speech despite Constitutional guarantees?  According to a report published by Freedom Network, Freedom of expression in Pakistan has always faced challenges. At least 91 cases, including seven murders of journalists and a blogger, attacks and other violations, against media and its practitioners have been documented in Pakistan over the course of one year – between May 2019 and April 2020.

The report signifies a worryingly escalating climate of intimidation and harassment that is adversely affecting the freedom of expression and access to information environment in Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

We are being suppressed through various means of censorship, including murders, threats, and harassment, which results in increasing silence and in erosion of public-interest journalism. This is not the journalism that we had been taught?

Journalists have surrendered to the continued oppression and have now implemented self-censorship. That is a plague for freedom of expression and deprives people of their right to information. Channels go ‘off air’ any time, newspapers circulation goes disturbed and sometimes journalists go disappeared.

Article for the Freedom of Expression, like many other articles, only guarantees freedom on ‘paper’ but in reality we remain suppressed not because of ‘reasonable restrictions’ but unreasonable restrictions.

In order to resolve this outlasting issue, Pakistani government should invest in its people to benefit from the demographic dividend, stop injustice and violations of human rights and build a peaceful generation through an inclusive development approach.

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