Dissenting voices are crucial to the health of a democracy

Jun 10, 2017
When people like Sultana Kamal and Afsan Chowdhury do not have the space to voice their opinions, all individuals are under threat
Is freedom of speech under threat in Bangladesh?  Recent events make it clear that the answer is most certainly yes. Prominent human rights lawyer Sultana Kamal was threatened by Hefazat-e-Islam with physical violence after making hypothetical comments on a television talk show.
In the meantime, a legal notice was served demanding the arrest of veteran journalist Afsan Chowhdury, who has been accused under the ICT Act of defamation in a Facebook post. Both cases point to a deeply disturbing trend in Bangladesh — the slow and steady clamping down of our fundamental, democratic right to free speech.
But as the two examples show, the threat to freedom of speech is coming from two different directions, one from extremists trying to hit at the constitutional freedoms of the country, the other from the government itself.
Because of these forces, the free press of Bangladesh is also under attack: Journalists routinely find themselves under fire for simply doing their jobs, and there are countless accounts of media personnel being assaulted by law enforcement agencies or politically-connected goons.
It is no wonder that Reporters Without Borders ranks as as one of the worst countries in the world for press freedom, ranking 146 in the Press Freedom Index. We do not wish to live in a country where freedom of speech is merely a myth, where freedom of speech exists in principle but not in practice.
When people like Sultana Kamal and Afsan Chowdhury do not have the space to voice their opinions, all individuals are under threat. For the sake of our democracy, we must stand up for and protect not only those we agree with, but also unpopular speech and dissenting opinions.
Dhaka Tribune, June 10, 2017

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