Submitted by: Shivam Kumar, HNLU
“We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech. Because in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth’’ – Barack Obama
Freedom of Speech is
given to citizens of most countries to enable them to share their ideas and
provide their opinion on different matters. It is considered to be essential
for the growth of an individual as well as the society. While most countries
provide this freedom to its citizens, many refrain from it. The freedom of
speech and expression is a very important fundamental right under the
Constitution. It is indispensible for the development of one’s own
individuality and for the success of parliamentary to democracy. It is said
that in a democracy the right to free expression is not only the right of an
individual but rather a right of the community to hear and informed.
The freedom of speech and expression is not only guaranteed by the Constitution or statutes of various states but also by various international conventions like Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and fundamental freedoms, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights etc. These declarations expressly talks about freedom of speech and expression.
Speech is God’s gift to mankind. Through speech a human being conveys his thoughts, sentiments and feeling to others. Freedom of speech and expression is thus a natural right, which a human being acquires on birth. It is, therefore, a basic right. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” proclaims the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (1948). The people of India declared in the Preamble of the Constitution, which they gave unto themselves their resolve to secure to all the citizens liberty of thought and expression. This resolve is reflected in Article 19(1) (a) which is one of the Articles found in Part III of the Constitution, which enumerates the Fundamental Rights.
Origin of Freedom of Speech and Expression
The concept of freedom of speech originated long back. England’s Bill of Rights 1689 adopted freedom of speech as a constitutional right and still in effect. The French Revolution in 1789 adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man and of Citizen. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in the year 1948 also states that everyone should have the freedom to express their ideas and opinions. The freedom of speech and expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 and has now formed a part of the international and regional human rights law. In International human rights the freedom of speech and expression is recognized in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Freedom of Speech and Sedition
The offence of sedition, in India, is defined under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code as, “whoever by words either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise brings into hatred or contempt or excite or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished”.
In the recent case of Kanhaiya Kumar v. State of Nct of Delhi, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University organized an event on the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was hanged in 2013. The event was a protest through poetry, art, and music against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru. Allegations were made that the students in the protest were heard shouting anti-Indian slogans. A case therefore filed against several students on charges of offence under Sections [124-A, 120-B, and 34]8. The University’s Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested after allegations of ‘anti-national’ sloganeering were made against him. Kanhaiya Kumar was released on bail by the Delhi High Court as the police investigation was still at nascent stage, and Kumar’s exact role in the protest was not clear.
Decided Cases Which Explained Freedom of Speech and Expression
Need and Purpose of Freedom of Speech and Expression
Not only freedom of speech and expression allows the persons to communicate freely with others regarding their feelings, ideas, views, opinions etc but it serves a broader purpose. The need and purpose of freedom of speech and expression are classified into the following –
Foundation of any democratic country is based on the freedom of speech and expression of the press for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the popular government is possible.
What is the need to protect Freedom of Speech and Expression?
There are four important justifications for freedom of speech :
If restrictions on speech are tolerated, society tends to keep silent about accurate facts and valuable opinion.
Personality and its growth:
Freedom of speech is an integral aspect of each individual’s right to self-development and self-fulfillment, restrictions on which will hamper personality and its growth.
One’s belief and show political attitudes:
Freedom of speech provides opportunity to express one’s belief and show political attitudes which ultimately results in the welfare of the society and state.
Freedom of speech is important to understand political issues and participate in smooth working of democracy and decision-making.
What is the need to restrict Freedom of Speech and Expression?
For a positive and healthy environment the right requires certain restrictions. Some of the major reasons are as follows:
Under Article 19(2) reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State.
The term “security of state” refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public order g. rebellion, waging war against the State, insurrection and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety, e.g. unlawful assembly, riot, affray.
Unrestrained malicious propaganda against a foreign friendly state needs to be restricted at some level because something which has potential to affect such relationship should be checked by government.
‘Public order’ is synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquility. Anything that disturbs public tranquility or public peace disturbs public order.
Thus, a law punishing utterances made with the deliberate intention to hurt the religious feelings of any class of persons is valid for such speech or writing has the tendency to create public disorder even if in some case those activities may not actually lead to a breach of peace.
The way to express something or to say something should be decent one. It should not affect the morality of the society adversely.
Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code provide instances of restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of decency or morality.
The Supreme Court of India had asked the Law Commission of India to make recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of “hate speeches” irrespective of, whenever made.
But the Commission recommends that the several factors need to be considered before restricting a speech, like, the context of the speech, the status of the victim, the status of the maker of the speech and the potential of the speech to create discriminatory and disruptive circumstances.
“If Liberty Means anything at all, It Means the Right to Tell People what they do not Want to Hear” George Orwell
From this article it can be easily concluded that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental right. It includes circulating one’s views by words or in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities, through advertisements and through any other communication channel. It also comprises of right to information, freedom of press etc. Thus this fundamental right has a vast scope. It can also be comprehended that public order holds a lot of significance as a ground of restriction on this fundamental right. But there should be reasonable and proper nexus or relationship between the restriction and achievement of public order. The words ‘in the interest of public order’ include not only utterances as are directly intended to lead to disorder but also those that have the tendency to lead to disorder It can also be concluded from the essay that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights. It includes circulating one’s views by words or in writing or through audio-visual instrumentality, advertisements or through any other communication channel. It also comprises of right to information, freedom of press etc. Thus, this fundamental right has a vast scope.