Freedom of Expression

by Shah N. Khan

M.A. Jinnah

The ideals of freedom of expression could be defined by what we are free not to express rather than free to expres. It is the freedom to abstain, refrain and avoid offending people of different creeds and hurting the feelings of fellow human beings, which form the basis of conforming to the moral standards of the modern world.

Bad mouthing is strictly prohibited in Holy Quran

Article 19 of The Constitution of Pakistan :

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 or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.

Article 19(A) of The Constitution of Pakistan:

Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.




Contempt of Court


Free Media


Nudity and Erotic Literature



Abuse and Cursing

Although freedom of speech is now guaranteed under the constituition of most of the democratic countries, there are certain things that are not allowed and we aren't free to shoot from the mouth such things as Obscenity, incitement to hate or illegal action, Defamation, and Blasphemy. In Pakistan campaigning against Armed Forces and Judiciary is prohibited.

There are also regulations, laws and normms on things like publishing, advertising and harassment, about which activists of press freedom are concerned and are struggling to remove flaws and excesses. Censorship of press is being abandoned from most countries. Censor boards for movies are now taking more liberal views in South Asia and Far East but not in Afghanistan and Pakistan where extremist elements object even to female models for advertising but their despotic and bigoted attitude is criticized by moderate Muslims.

Censor boards for movies are now taking more liberal views in South Asia and Far East but not in Afghanistan and Pakistan where extremist elements object even to female models for advertising but their despotic and bigoted attitude is criticized by moderate Muslims.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority is an independent and constitutionally established federal institution responsible for regulating and issuing channel licenses for establishment of the mass-media culture, print and electronic media. PEMRA has been established under PEMRA Ordinance 2002 to facilitate and regulate the private electronic media. It has mandate to improve the standards of information, education and entertainment and to enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan Including news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art and culture as well as science and technology.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. This is a paraphrase of Voltaire's sentiments in his Essay on Tolerance. In 1770, that great French philosopher and a leader of enlightment wrote to M. le Riche: "Monsieur l'Abb?, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

Although the freedom of press in US and most of Europe is considered exemplary, we hear vioces for reforms. Today, many leading papers and magazines are in the clutches of big business. Many are now part of some vast conglomerate with Television and many news and entertainment products. The companies are publicly listed on the and their shareholders want to see bigger earnings each and every quarter. Whole issues of a magazine or a paper can now be sponsored by a single corporate advertiser. This, at a minimum, raises questions about just how independent the editors are from those who buy the ads or own large chunk of shares. It is widely believed that the planned and sustained campaign in the Western media to demonize Islam is directed by the big business owned by American and European Jews and pro-Zionists elements.


Based in Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF). Its network of correspondents in 130 countries give RSF the ability to mobilize support, challenge governments and wield influence both on the ground and in the ministries and precincts where media and Internet standards and legislation are drafted.

As one Indian writers opines among the grounds on which free speech may legitimately be subjected to reasonable restrictions is contempt of court. However, this is also an area where, despite the maturing of the democratic tradition over the last five decades and more, the balance is sharply tilted against the press and others who seek to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression. The definition of contempt is so elastic and open to subjective interpretation and the process itself is so unfair ? with the court acting as the complainant, prosecutor, and judge rolled into one ? that a person charged has little chance of getting away with anything other than an apology. It is a power that the Supreme Court itself has described in one of its judgments as a vague and wandering jurisdiction with uncertain frontiers.

Things in Pakistan have been worst than India but both in India and Pakistan from the standpoint of the press and the media, it inhibits vigorous debate and generates a tendency to play safe when reporting and commenting on matters relating to the judiciary and in Pakistan military junta too. However it must be appreciated that never before we have seen such freedom of media as allowed by he present regime but still there is a long way to go to achieve the freedom according to international norms and as depicted in the following quote:
If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. _Noam Chomsky (b. 1928), U.S. linguist, political analyst.

While familiarizing with the international norms for Freedom of Expression we look for guidance from Holy Quran and Hadith and are rewarded with sound advice for our conduct. In verse 023.003 of Holy Quran we are advised to avoid vain talk. In verse 017.053 we are advised to say those things that are best for Satan sows dissensions among the believers and that the Satan is to man an avowed enemy.

In verse 006.068 we are told that when we see men engaged in vain discourse about Allah's signs, we should turn away from them unless they turn to a different theme. If Satan ever makes us forget, then after recollection, we should not thou in the company of those who do wrong.

In Western culture there is a special place in literature for satire and insults involving wit and humor. But in Islam we are advised to avoid that and slander, lies, distortions, exaggerations, erotic and vulgar expressions are regarded sinful.
Successful indeed are the believers,
Who are humble in their prayers,
Who avoid vain talk;
AlQuran, 023.001 - 003

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
John Milton (1608-74), English poet.

Free societies do not negate the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience. Politeness, courtesy and decency are considered virtuous but vain talk or the things that injure feelings of others unjustly or offensive or disrespectful expressions especially for elders, women and superiors are not favored. Lies, distortions, sensual and vile expressions inciting to sin or illegal action as well as backbiting and spreading hatred or rumors are prohibited.

It generally accepted that the right to free speech could be curtailed on grounds of national security. Contempt of court is another area where one cannot say the things that insult the judge or ridicule his judgment.

Even in this age of enlightenment; haughtiness, vanities, arrogances, meanness, and hypocrisies remain psychic diseases especially among the affluent, which are despised by the less fortunate as well as the balanced people.


Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
Omar Khayyam (c. 11th 12th century), Persian astronomer, poet

Quite often political debates and the proceedings in parliaments and different types of meetings are found to be much in deviation from these high ideals. As Thomas Jefferson said:An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.


Somebody quipped that daily life is governed by an economic system in which the production and consumption of insults tends to balance out. Russell Lynes, U.S. editor and critic gave us sound advice: The only gracious way to accept an insult is to ignore it; if you can't ignore it, top it; if you can?t top it, laugh at it; if you can?t laugh at it, it's probably deserved.

There is an old Indian saying that the injury caused by sword heals more quickly than that caused by tongue. But late H. L. Mencken, U.S. journalist thought:The only cure for contempt is counter contempt. And another great American statesman Benjamin Franklin opined:
Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.

There are few people in this world who think like Will smith: Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

Abuse and Cursing

Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is the author of Why We Curse? and Cursing in America. He opines that cursing expresses our emotions in a deeper way than any other in a language. In fact, swearing might even be an evolutionary advantage. The four letter words we use today are hundreds of years old, Jay says. He went on to say that animals express their anger through physical reactions and violence. An angry dog will growl or bite. Over the years, Jay has recorded tens of thousands of volunteers yelling and swearing at each other ? none of his subjects ever have come to blows. You don?t just walk up to someone and punch them in the face." An understanding of swearing requires recognition that profanity is just another extension of culture.

The reason we have racist language is because we have racism, Jay says. The current sexual climate is repressive; there?s an absence of sex education, a high degree of moral posturing, he says. There?s no reason to believe that these taboos are going to go anywhere soon.

His current study deals with the frequency of certain curses, and for the past 40 years, the most popular have changed very little. Thirty percent of all swearing, he has found, comprises just two of the more popular of centuries old famous words.

We find these days free use of abusive language not only in movies but also books and magazine. Here are a few sophisticated examples:

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life?s a bitch. You?ve got to go out and kick ass._ Maya Angelou (b. 1928), U.S. author.

Politics is a choice of enemas. You?re gonna get it up the ass, no matter what you do. _George V. Higgins (b. 1939), U.S. novelist.

Son, in politics you?ve got to learn that overnight chicken shit can turn to chicken salad._ Lyndon B. Johnson (1908?73), U.S. Democratic politician, president.

Twenty-first century America?s profanity was born in medieval England, when the church had immediate influence on daily life. Swearing comes from the idea of swearing on the Bible, says University English professor Joseph Wittig,Swearing on Christ's wounds is just another way to do that.


Sincere criticism with the specific object of correcting a fault must be appreciated even though it may cause some pain or embarrassment, which more often than not, is quickly healed by honest soul searching and reflection. But censure or disparagement in the course of idle gossip or for the purpose of ridiculing or hurting or destroying the image is quite different. It is a vice. People who indulge in this vice as idle gossip usually lose their countenance when their criticism is responded with strong refutation based on logic and reason.

Wise men hammer out truth on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate. But when mind is full of predigested rubbish or when people look at the facts with the jaundiced eye irrationality dominates causing animosity or pandemonium.


Propaganda has a bad name but all politicians and rulers use it as s a soft weapon in combination with the arsenal of lies, deceit, camouflage or exaggeration. Professional propagandists or lobbying firms are hired not only to improve one's image but also to destroy the image of opponents. Some hypocrites are engaged full time in demonizing Islam.

Propaganda is not merely dissemination of ideas and information for the purpose of inducing or intensifying specific attitudes and actions. It is an art lying which consists in nearly deceiving your own people as well as your enemies. Because propaganda is frequently accompanied by distortions of fact and by appeals to passion and prejudice, it is often thought to be invariably false or misleading. Although some propagandists may intentionally distort fact, others may present it as faithfully as objective observers.<.p>

As we have seen in case of invasion of Iraq war propaganda of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq based on lies and distortion lead to fear and fear lead to approval of invasion by a slim majority.


Laws regarding Defamation vary from country to country and generally it is regarded as the act of damaging the reputation of another by means of false and calumnious communications. In common law, defamation in writing is classified as libel, and oral defamation as slander. In most countries Libel suits are almost always pursued as civil actions for financial damages. The targets of claims are often the mass media. However, libel suits against nonmedia defendants can arise. But in countries like Saudi Arabia and other Kingdoms there is no telling what would happen to someone accused of defaming the royal family or some important member of the ruling elite.

In democratic countries in most cases actual injury must be proved before financial damages may be awarded. If proved, damages are available for monetary losses?such as loss of business or of a job?as well as for other types of losses, including harm to the victim's reputation or emotional distress. In addition, punitive damages (aimed to punish the libeler rather than to compensate the victim) have also been awarded but clever people can escape any punishment as seen in many scandals of sexual indiscretion involving famous personalities.

Every man has a right to express what he thinks truth but speaking or publishing words for defamation, inciting for illegal action or involving obscenity are not be allowed, especially those that vilify or ridicule religious beliefs or Holy Scriptures are regarded generally criminal acts of blasphemy. Nobody has a right to make defamatory or slanderous statements about people. But it is difficult to prove it in court of law as the willful act of damaging the reputation of another by means of false and calumnious communications. In common law, defamation in writing is classified as libel, and oral defamation as slander.

If defamation is proved, usually damages are granted by the courts for monetary losses?such as loss of business or of a job?as well as for other types of losses, including harm to the victim's reputation or emotional distress and the person or body accused of defamation is required to pay that. . In some cases punishment is given to the libeler rather than to compensate the victim.

Free Media

Journalism is still regarded as a more immediate short- term weapon to change the public opinion. Few journalists conform to the modern journalist?s code of Olympian objectivity and total purity of motive. Here is a confession from a senior journalist.

If I?d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people ? including me ? would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism._ Hunter S. Thompson (b. 1939), U.S. journalist.

In developing countries ridiculing or defaming the rulers may sometimes lead to jail sentence on real or fabricated charges depending upon the laws regulating press and publications. In India we see ideal freedom of media, but the journalists and papers favoring independent struggle of Kashmir are harassed and punished on fabricated charges. President Musharraf allowed freedom to media to great extent.However, religious extremists both in India and Pakistan do not tolerate blasphemy or criticism of their religious rites. Hindu extremists in India tore down centuries historical Babri Mosque merely on the rumor that Mogul Emperor had built the mosque by destroying their temple. There is no archaeological evidence available to support that.

International organizations take cognizance of attacks on freedom of expression for the journalists. Generally the journalists are required to follow a code ethics under which the media is supposed to honor the right of the public to know the facts but refrain from presenting a false picture and aiding and abetting a prosecutorial agent of the state in the commission of a felony. The freedom that the media in the West enjoys is unthinkable in many third world countries.


In great many countries Blasphemy has been a crime of speaking or publishing words that vilify or ridicule God, the Bible, or religious beliefs. Scurrility and a resultant tendency to provoke a public disturbance are the criteria for blasphemy. Laws provide punishment for it but are held to be in consonance with the laws that protect freedom of speech. Blasphemy is still a crime in Britain and in most of the United States, but prosecutions are now rare.

British novelist of Indian descent, Salman Rushdie whose book The Satanic Verses (1988) was banned in several Islamic countries. In 1989 Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared that Rushdie and everyone involved in the book's publication should be put to death. Although Rushdie offered an apology, the punishment was not withdrawn he remains in hiding with rare public appearances in the West. In 1990 he said in an interview to Guardian, "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

Rushdie now lives life a scared rat hiding in holes and mostly travelling incognito or in disguise. Irshad Manji the Ismaili woman and author of The Trouble with Islam seems to be one his admirers.

In Pakistan the measures taken by Zia regime to Islamize banking and introduce Hudood Ordinance are now considered full of flaws. A Commission headed by Justice Majidah Rizi is said to have recommended many modifications. The caluses of Huddod Ordinace specially those relating to Blasphemy law are not considered to be in exact consonance with Quran and Sunnah.

In common law in the West, Blasphemy is a crime of speaking or publishing words that vilify or ridicule God, the Bible, or religious beliefs. Scurrility and a resultant tendency to provoke a public disturbance are the criteria for blasphemy. Laws that condemn it are held to be in consonance with the laws that protect freedom of speech. Blasphemy is still a crime in Britain and in most of the United States, but prosecutions are now rare. But in medieval Europe people used to be burned alive or killed for blasphemy. Ridiculing Pope and Clergy was treated as a form of blasphemy. In many countries uttering words against kings or religious deity was considered as a sin punishable usually by death.

Although in Quran great emphasis is laid on kindness, forgiveness, mercy etc. orthodox Muslims take blasphemy very seriously and in some sects Sharia laws prescribe death penalty whereas during his lifetime Holy Prophet Mohammed discouraged such cruelties and forgave even those who had molested him and made him migrate from Makkah.

The anger of Muslims over the cartoons published by some European papers ridiculing Prophet Muhammad caused worldwide protests recently. Some Muslim religious leaders say that the agents of the enemies of Islam planted their agents in peaceful demonstrations to ignite violence with the object of demonizing Islam. And some moderate scholars say that we should look for enemies within us as the worst blasphemy is violating the commandments about justice, honesty, brotherhood, kindness and altruism. See related article.

Nudity and Erotic Literature

In countries like Afghanistan extremists and despots object to all kinds of female modeling for publicity. Adult Magazines showing pictures of bikini clad girls or topless pin ups are banned.

However in moderate Islamic State like Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. the laws and values for lies, distortion, exaggeration, slander, inciting to illegal action, spreading hatred etc. are not much different than the universally accepted norms. But nudity and obscenity are not dealt with as leniently as in the West.

It is not right to believe that the good Samaritans all over the Western world support MTV culture; gay rights and events like beauty pageants. Definition of obscenity varies in different cultures and nudity is not prohibited in most countries to the same extent as it is in Islamic world. Any Publisher of erotic literature or nude or pornographic pictures would land up in jail in most Islamic states and in countries like Afghanistan the porn film actors (if any caught) would be sentenced to death. The values in the West are quite liberal as depicted by the following quotes:

Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed. William Blake (1757?1827), English poet, painter,

In the NUDE, all that is not beautiful is obscene._ Robert Bresson (b. 1907), French film director

Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. ? The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress._John Berger (b. 1926), British critic.


The attitude of most people in the West towards it is truthfully shown by Tony Hancock (1924?68), British comedian: It?s red hot, mate. I hate to think of this sort of book getting in the wrong hands. As soon as I?ve finished this, I shall recommend they ban it.

Pornography is generally classified into two categories: soft-core, in which erotic content is more titillating than explicit. And hard-core, in which erotic content is explicitly and graphically depicted with full intensity. Most objections to pornography have been based on religious grounds. And pornographic sites on Internet are a great source of concern to most parents and attempts are made to block such sites. Most people regard pornography as degrading and socially harmful.

Proponents of pornography argue that it is essentially a harmless diversion and may serve to relieve sexual tensions. Much controversy over pornography centers on whether or not pornography should be considered a form of obscenity, and whether it should be subject to some form of censorship.

Bertrand Russell wrote: Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

Definition of pornographic literature has often posed problem, which prompted W. H. Auden (1907?73), Anglo-American poet to suggest, There?s only one good test of pornography. Get twelve normal men to read the book, and then ask them, Did you get an erection? If the answer is Yes from a majority of the twelve, then the book is pornographic. But laws in many countries are more lenient.


Limits of free speech and tolerance are tested in political, religious and other kinds of debate. Intellectual debates on complex abstract topics always present the possibility of unproductive confusion people talking past one another, saying similar things with different words, using the same words with different meanings, or otherwise wasting their efforts in merely verbal disputes. In the opinion of Grant M. Nulle, "Politicians and their deputies are merely the best at exploiting the system's impaired moral climate to organize the state's confiscatory arm to serve their backer's interests.

Those who would treat politics and morality apart will never understand the one or the other. Rousseau.

Many intellectual believe that while our politicians may not be able to solve many of the problems they create, the political classes in many countries have proven they are still adept at causing crises?and then blaming others for the results.

The trouble with the adult franchise (specially in developing countries) is the political immaturity the voters as well as the candidates. Remember the old saying, "Majority consists of fools." Good democracy is said to be commensurate with literacy, class, wealth, and occupational convergence. Many scholars lament that less-than-perfect democracy has been achieved and existing system cannot guarantee good governance. and stricter qualifications for the voters and the candidates are needed.

A scene from the National Assembly of Pakistan or Indian Parliament ?Lok Sabha? and some other countries is about the same: noise, clamor, and little genuine debate but variety of fisticuffs. While most of the Western Parliamentarians would be content with, the retorts, quips churlish replies or at worst the quarrelsome refutations, in India, Pakistan and a few other countries parliamentarians often cause pandemonium and sometimes do not hesitate take to fisticuffs at the slightest provocation? Not because great principles of policy are involved but simply because the ignorant majority elects the wrong people.

Ambrose Bierce defined diplomacy as the patriotic art of lying for one's country. And another diplomat regards the ambassador as honest people sent to lie abroad for the good of his country. As Barbara Tuchman, U.S. historian wrote: ?Diplomacy means all the wicked devices of the Old World, spheres of influence, balances of power, secret treaties, triple alliances, and, during the interwar period, appeasement of Fascism.? And now diplomacy has become an art of saying nastiest things in nicest words.

Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason posed a valid question: -Certainly one may say, ?Freedom to speak or write can be taken from us by a superior power, but never the freedom to think!? But how much, and how correctly, would we think if we did not think, as it were, in common with others, with whom we mutually communicate!