Muttahida Qaumi Movement Chief Altaf Hussain has challenged the Lahore High Court (LHC) decision restricting the broadcast of his images and speeches. The appeal states that the LHC decision violates freedom of expression, basic rights and the constitution. In another development an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi sentenced the former leader of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Rawalpindi president Mufti Tanveer to six months in prison for giving a hate speech. The argument that was taken in both cases was the one of freedom of expression. That is a strange argument, especially when it comes in the first case from a lady that is usually known as a human right activist. Why is that a contradiction? Freedom of speech is considered to be a human right and a basic right of a citizen of any country subscribing to a constitution if it is so provided therein.

According to the encyclopedia ‘freedom of speech’ is defined as the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. So far so good. But then our human right activist Asma Jahangir forgets that even in the oh-so admired West governments restrict the speech and other expressions of their citizens with varying limitations. Common limitations on speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements, right to privacy and others. It is wrong to understand the word ‘freedom’ in any connection as something barred of any limits though sometimes we want to believe that. But this failed understanding of ‘freedom’ has brought much harm to people and to societies and in a globalized world the harm is much more touching many more people.

Thus it is an extremely bold step of the Pakistani government and judiciary to have lately started to curb the freedom of expression of those who (mis)use this freedom to for ulterior motives such as to raise hatred or fury among people for political reasons, as in the MQM case or for religious reasons as in the case of the Mufti who does not seem to deserve this title. Raising hatred against minorities or people who are holding different believes and opinions are not only undemocratic but un-Islamic as well. Look at our irresponsible electronic media’s understanding this freedom, some anchors, which are daily busy in adding fuel to fire just for their petty commercial gains. While the regulators are busy in their own game.

Finally our government seems to have understood this–though only after having lost so many lives due to years of unlimited freedom to express militant and extremist ideas. This unlimited freedom has caused much trouble in our society and is one of the reasons for terrorism to rise in Pakistan. While much time will be needed to undo the wrongs there is dire need to discuss such ideas as freedom of expression in society. It is necessary to for all Pakistanis to understand the implications. Just to keep the record right: Even the West is confused or partisan about freedom of expression as the Prophet Muhammad’s caricatures, the ‘Satanic verses’ and other occasions have shown. Even freedom of information discussion that wikileaks and Edward Snowden have caused is part of this problem. In a globalized world with multiple different cultures, religions and political systems around freedom of expression is needed but even more so are the limitations on that freedom that will prevent us from hurting others or creating war and destruction.


Karachi, October 6.