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Freedom of speech or hate speech: Where do you draw the line?

Freedom of speech and expression, may not be recognized as absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, et cetera.

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Provocation

Zinedine Zidane, the greatest French footballer has scored in both World Cup Finals France has ever reached. In the year 1998 he helped France win the first ever football world cup by scoring two goals in the final. Again in the world cup tournament of 2006, he helped the French team reach the final and scored a goal before he was sent off the ground for head-butting the other team’s player Marco Materazzi, an Italian defender who was guarding Zidane had an altercation and while responding to Zidane’s offer to give Materazzi his shirt, replied that he’d rather have his (Zidane’s) sister than his shirt.” Zidane lost the temperament and France lost the world cup.

Upon Zidane’s return to France, Paris was filled with thousands of fans led by the French president Jacques Chirac chanting “Zizou! Zizou.  A poll conducted in the immediate wake of the incident showed, 61% of French people said they had already forgiven him for his actions while 52% said they understood them. It was later revealed through interviews that Marco Materazzi had insulted Zidane’s sister, which led to Zidane’s heightened anger and reaction. Later in 2010, Zidane said that he would “rather die than apologize” to Materazzi for the headbutt in the final.  He also said, “If you look at the fourteen red cards I had in my career, twelve of them were a result of provocation. This isn’t justification, this isn’t an excuse, but my passion, temper and blood made me react”.

Read more: Does law of sedition undermine free speech?

Following his red card in the final, Zidane retired from his professional football career and confirmed that he would not go back on his decision.

Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as absolute

Though freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), however, the version of Article 19 in the ICCPR was later amended which states that the exercise of these rights (freedom of speech) carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”.

Hate speech 

Earlier this year, Kapil Mishra, a local politician of India’s leading Hindu nationalist party, had just lost an election and according to some observers, was looking for a way to bounce back. He delivered a fiery hate speech that stirred violence in eastern Delhi neighborhood which led to multiple waves of bloodshed, property destruction and riots in North East Delhi caused chiefly by Hindu mobs attacking Muslims. 53 people were killed, two-thirds were Muslims who were shot, slashed with repeated blows, or set on fire and over a dozen Hindus were also killed. The dead also included a policeman and an intelligence officer.

Read more: Islam in the West: Freedom to express or oppress?

‘Harm principle’

As per the ‘Harm principle’, proposed by John Stuart Mill in his famous essay titled “On Liberty” suggests: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.’ Mill set standards for the relationship between authority and liberty.  Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, dignity, public security and perjury.

And I strongly suggest that this suggested prohibition list should be made part of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) with addition of “Mocking any Prophet”.

Read more: Does PTI really believe in freedom of expression?

Mushtaq Jumma is an Ex-Airliner and Business Consultant. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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