De­mand­ing Pro­tec­tion

Free­dom of ex­pres­sion re­mains a sen­si­tive is­sue in South Asia. Though grow­ing in im­por­tance, it seems un­likely that gov­ern­ments will grant such ba­sic free­doms to their ci­ti­zens.

Southasia - - Human Freedoms - By Faiza Hai

“Free­dom is the right to choose, the right to cre­ate for your­self the al­ter­na­tives of choice. With­out the pos­si­bil­ity of choice and the ex­er­cise of choice a man is not a man but a mem­ber, an in­stru­ment, a thing.”

- Archibald Ma­cLeish

Free­dom is one of the most elu­sive con­cepts to hu­man be­ings. It is the long­ing of all per­sons, yet when gained or cel­e­brated at the ex­pense of oth­ers, its value is ques­tion­able. Free­dom is a con­cept that calls for whole­ness. A per­son is not a fully free mem­ber of so­ci­ety if he is re­stricted po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, so­cially, cul­tur­ally or re­li­giously. His­tory has wit­nessed great thinkers, politi­cians, writ­ers, and artists waste their lives try­ing to find the mean­ing of free­dom. Men have spent gen­er­a­tions float­ing var­i­ous def­i­ni­tions, ex­am­ples and quo­ta­tions on what makes free­dom so im­por­tant.

Free­dom of ex­pres­sion, as Jus­tice Felix Frank­furter puts it, “is the well­spring of any civ­i­liza­tion.” Speech, words and ex­pres­sions are not sim­ply lim­ited to pub­lic speak­ing. The right to ex­press one­self is pre­served in the United Na­tions Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights and is granted for­mal recog­ni­tion by most na­tions. An es­sen­tial part of free­dom of ex­pres­sion is voic­ing one’s opin­ion pub­licly with­out fear of cen­sor­ship or pun­ish­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, such free­dom is of­ten cur­tailed by gov­ern­ments, es­pe­cially in South Asia.

South Asia is home to one-fifth of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and is

de­scribed as one of the poor­est re­gions on Earth. The most vul­ner­a­ble to dis­crim­i­na­tion are not only the poor and mi­nori­ties but also women and chil­dren. This is ev­i­dent through dis­crim­i­na­tory gen­der laws, phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment of both women and chil­dren, lack of equal and safe work­ing con­di­tions, child la­bor, fe­male feti­cide and lack of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for girls, amongst nu­mer­ous other griev­ances.

In an era dom­i­nated by the in­flux of me­dia, South Asians are still strug­gling for their free­doms of ex­pres­sion and opin­ion. In 2011, dur­ing the clos­ing ses­sion of The World Press Free­dom Day, South Asian jour­nal­ists high­lighted the im­por­tance of press free­dom in South Asia, stressed the need to eval­u­ate and de­fend the me­dia from at­tacks on its in­de­pen­dence and paid trib­ute to jour­nal­ists who lost their lives in the line of duty.

In Sri Lanka, al­most twenty jour­nal­ists were killed dur­ing the last decade and in Pak­istan, deemed the most dan­ger­ous coun­try for jour­nal­ists, at least eleven jour­nal­ists lost their lives last year alone.

Jour­nal­ists in South Asia are coura­geous sup­port­ers of press free­dom and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. In re­cent years, South Asian jour­nal­ists have had to face hard bat­tles in their per­se­ver­ance to re­port the truth. Stand­ing bravely in the face of per­se­cu­tion and death threats, the jour­nal­ists’ com­mu­nity serves as an easy tar­get mo­ti­vated by po­lit­i­cal back­ing.

At a time when in­ter­na­tional me­dia and gov­ern­ments around the world are rais­ing a col­lec­tive voice in fa­vor of hu­man free­doms, South Asia is only drift­ing fur­ther into dark­ness. De­spite ef­forts made by hu- man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions ad­dress­ing press­ing is­sues, it seems in­ter­ests of gov­ern­ments are greater than the rights of the com­mon man.

It is im­per­a­tive for the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion through­out South Asia to be­come con­ducive to re­spon­si­ble re­port­ing and for gov­ern­ments to guar­an­tee jour­nal­ists the free­dom and pro­tec­tion they de­serve. Un­til there is no pro­tec­tion, me­dia free­dom and in­di­vid­ual free­dom of ex­pres­sion will stag­nate and ul­ti­mately de­te­ri­o­rate, plung­ing South Asia into an even more com­pli­cated and con­trolled web. The need of the hour is tol­er­ance to dif­fer­ences of opin­ion and not per­se­cu­tion based on dis­agree­ment.

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