What’s the fate of freedom of speech in Pakistan?
Article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan 1973, provides the concept of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech comes from the very heart of a natural right of a civilised societies to impart and acquire information about their common interests, it helped an individual in self-accomplishment, and led to discovery of truth, it strengthened and enlarged the capacity of an individual to participate in decision making, and provided a mechanism to facilitate achieving a reasonable balance between stability and social change. Such freedom is the foundation of a democracy and the concept of free government of a free people. Any attempt to impede, stifle or contravene such right would certainly fall foul of the freedom guaranteed under Art.19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Constitution of Pakistan, though it has secured the right to free speech, but had not left the same unchecked, and had provided for reasonable restriction as postulated under Article 19 of the Constitution. State have a compelling interest in regulating the right to speech when it comes in conflict with the rights of other individuals, or in national interests however such restrictions must be reasonable and must not be contrary to the constitution of Pakistan. No one could be forced to listen or watch that he may not like to, and one could not be invaded with unsolicited interruptions while watching or listening to something of interest.
In a civilised and democratic society, restrictions and duties co-existed in order to protect and preserve the right to speech. Unless the restriction struck a proper balance between the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution and the social control permitted thereby, it must be held to lack the attributes of reasonableness. Government should therefore strike a just and reasonable balance between the need for ensuring the people’s right of freedom of speech and protecting national interests. Fundamental rights have been placed in the Constitution not merely to protect acts, conduct and views that one may approve of but also, and especially, to protect views with which one may disagree or which even find unpleasant or unacceptable.
Cluster of freedoms (Fundamental Rights) under the Constitution of Pakistan, emboldened such Constitutional promise and freedoms of movement, speech, assembly, association and information enjoyed a unique symbiotic relationship which nurtured democracy and strengthened political institutions, clearly the democracy cannot survive without freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression being a natural fundamental right could not be suppressed unless the same was being exploited. The law specifically states that Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan confers on all citizens the right of freedom of speech by providing that every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan. The recent unlawful actions against the social media users by the Counter-Terrorism Wing of the FIA clearly lacks the elements of reasonableness and contrary to the constitution of Pakistan in terms of Article 19. The FIA’s actions certainly amounts to a gross abuse of power that must be brought to an end with a clear and categorical commitment by the government that the actions will not be repeated. That an elected government is cracking down on legitimate dissent by the public against the state is doubly shameful.
It is important to understand that the public office is a public agency and a trust created in the interest and for the benefit of the people of Pakistan and since an incumbent of a public office is invested with certain powers and charged with certain duties pertinent to sovereignty, the powers so delegated to the officers are held in trust for the citizens of Pakistan. Such trust extends to all matters within the range of the duties pertaining to the office. A public officer is amenable to the rule, which forbids an agent or trustee to place himself in such an attitude. After all, public officers are nothing but the servants of the citizens of Pakistan.
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