What happens when you have no freedom of speech?

Published: May 7, 2016

Censorship is nothing new. Journalists constantly face threats that come from many different sources – government, extremists and control of the media itself. Over the years, many have been hacked to death, brutally attacked and robbed of their right to free speech.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is the 4th most dangerous country for journalists.

Is this ranking fair though?

For the longest time, Pakistanis have been clamouring for the abolition of their country’s biggest threats to free speech – the blasphemy law. This law has been misused on various occasions, starting from Aasia bibi to Shama and Shahzad, the Christian couple and Governor Salman Taseer, who lost his life for speaking his mind on how it is unjustly used.

So on April 17, 2016, Shehryar Taseer, son of Governor Salman Taseer and Publisher of Daily Times, decided to take a stand by publishing an article about the blasphemy law on their website and in their daily copy.

Being a controversial topic in the country, people would naturally react to it. However, they were in for a different experience altogether. As the readers shared their thoughts regarding the issue, their statements were altered, real-time, on the medium they would least expect censorship to happen – the comment box.

An intelligent program embedded in the comment box made them experience censorship first-hand to make them feel the frustration of what it is like to lose the fundamental right to free speech. No matter how many times they tried retyping their original comment, the result was still the same. This would inevitably frustrate the commentators, but at the same time, would make them realise what censorship actually feels like.

Shehryar Taseer, Publisher of Daily Times, commenting on the motivation behind the movement said,

“We wanted to highlight the importance of being able to express one’s view and not take freedom of speech for granted. I think we all have to take a stance against censorship. How else are we going to move forward towards a more liberal Pakistan, towards a Pakistan that will tolerate differing opinions and a place where people can feel safe and secure when they speak or write about a multitude of topics? Freedom of speech is not just a country specific or regional issue –this is a global issue.”

The purpose of this was to rally for the fight towards free speech. The article directed its readers to the Free My Voice movement. I feel this measure taken by Shehryar Taseer will finally lay the foundation of much needed free speech in Pakistan. It is an initiative that aims to change the fate of journalists in Pakistan by making people experience the censorship journalists go through on an almost daily basis. It is a movement to help raise awareness, and give everyone back their right to free speech, a right one is born with.

Zainab L Khan

Zainab L Khan

The author is a freelance journalist.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.