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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The misconception of freedom of expression and state responsibility

Waqar Anjum, an advocate of Lahore High Court talks about how Vilks, died in a high-speed car crash along with two police officers, who were assigned to him for his protection on 3 October 2021. He further talks about the messed-up concept of freedom of expression and the state not taking any responsibility for such actions. How can love and peace be promoted when religious sentiments of Muslims are being hurt on purpose like this?

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who created a highly offensive caricature of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 2007, which set a wave of anguish in the Muslim community worldwide, was killed in a car crash on Sunday 04th of October 2021. He was constantly hiding and running like a criminal since 2007. Have we ever seen a person who would promote love and peace and have to live like this in the name of freedom of expression?

He never showed any remorse for his demeaning actions and constantly defended them in the name of ‘Art’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’. Millions of Muslims protested his move and demanded accountability, but his homeland did not care about the sentiments of Muslims. Sweden preferred to deploy security men to guard a person for more than a decade who caused hatred and division in local and international society than to heal the feelings of around 1.9 billion Muslims by prosecuting him; however, who can deny the fate. The state of Sweden sent a very wrong message by condoning the objectionable actions of Lars Vilks.

Read more: Who is promoting narrative of suppression of freedom of expression in Pakistan?

Mixed reaction on Lars Vilks death

As news of his killing in a car accident came out, many westerners hailed his bravery and defended his controversial actions in the name of ‘Art’ and ‘Freedom of Expression.’ Some also argued that ‘Art’ could not have any limitations in a secular state like Sweden. However, the same secular country does not allow character assassination of their “monarch” or any member of the Royal Family by any member of society. Under the Swedish Criminal Code, the insulting or disrespect of ‘monarch’ (lèse-majesté) remains a criminal offense in Sweden. Defamation or insult committed against the monarch or other member of the Royal Family is a criminal offense under Chapter. 18, Section. 2 of the Swedish Criminal Code.

The punishment of defamation is imprisonment for up to four years or up to six years in the case of gross defamation.” So, defamation of ‘monarch’ of around 10.5 million Swedish people or any member of the Royal Family is a criminal offense, whereas blasphemy of a Holy Prophet who is respected and loved by more than 1.9 billion Muslims is justified in the name of ‘Art’ and ‘Freedom of Expression.’ What kind of hypocrisy is this? Is it fair to allow an extremist person to exercise the right of ‘Freedom of Expression’ to injure the religious emotions of a community? Can a person be allowed to propagate hatred and division in the name of ‘Art’ and ‘Freedom of Expression? Where there is a right, there is a responsibility.

Right of ‘Freedom of Expression’ allows a person to express himself/herself without any fear but it does not give a license to ridicule, demean, mock, or emotionally hurt anyone on purpose. There should be only a right of responsible “freedom of expression”. Ridiculing, demeaning, or targeting a particular community going below the belt on purpose in the name of ‘Art’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’ will lead to division, anarchy, and hate crimes.

Read more: Pakistani Media: Freedom of Expression or Chaos Mongers

The evolvement of laws with changing needs of society is crucial

Generally, laws are legislated to regulate the smooth functioning of a society, to protect the collective as well as individual rights of people, to build a supportive environment for economic progress, social welfare, peace, and stability. A state is supposed to legislate laws to promote inclusivity, harmony, and unity among its people and discourage division, disharmony, and hatred. It takes empathy to legislate laws for the protection of minority communities in any country.

A secular state is one where all the communities have full respect for their respective religious and cultural values. There cannot be any tolerance for discrimination against any community based on ethnicity, color, race, or religion in a liberal country. State-sponsored victimization of any community, playing with religious beliefs & sentiments, mocking their leaders are acts of bigotry, extremism, and regression that must not find any support from civil society.

Seeds of hatred produce violent extremists like ‘Brenton Tarrant’, a white supremacist who killed 51 innocent Muslims including women and children in a horrific terrorist attack in 02 Mosques, on the 15th of March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Unfortunately, it was not merely an individual responsible for the bloodshed, but a mentality nourished by sheer hatred and bigotry that killed 51 Muslims mercilessly.

It is the primary duty of every state to treat all its citizens and communities equitably and fairly. When a state fails to ensure legitimate rights and does not protect the natural sentiments of any community, then people of such a community naturally feel deprived and helpless. Deprivation is the root cause of resentment and could trigger aggrieved people to take laws in their hands at times. History guides us; you can’t enforce something unnatural or unjust on people forever, just by declaring it a law. Black people in the USA stood against all those inhuman laws of segregation until they were repealed.

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

The first and foremost connection among humans is ‘Humanity’. Humanity demands love, kindness, care, and empathy for everyone beyond borders, without the difference of race, ethnicity, color, or religion. Protection of humans’ lives and emotions must be recognized as a subject of common interest. We ought to come out of this mentality that since it is not “mine” so it’s all fine. The international community needs to act together for the promotion of harmony, love, peace, and kindness. Our collective stand against racism, hatred and division can make this world a heavenly place for everyone to live in.


The writer is an advocate of the Lahore high court. He can be reached at guardiansatlaw@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.