WARNING: The following story contains harsh political content. This is a report for a Digital Media class at Middle Tennessee State University. Discretion is advised.
We live at a very complicated age. One of the main factors that I believe that it’s that way is primary due to the fact that the speed and distance at which we can communicate is faster and greater because of technology. We communicate with our phones, our tablets, and our computers, typing, posting, and sharing our opinions with the world. The more we share, the louder our voices become and the more attention we gain. Another is that our belief systems are constantly evolving. However, some of us would still keep our opinions to ourselves. And that’s not fair. We should be able to share our opinions with one another; to be able to start a dialogue with each other.
Sadly, that’s not the case.
We live at a time where we have to face with the realization that just because we have a right to say whatever we want online, doesn’t mean we can’t expect consequences.
Now I want to point out the third and final factor. We live in an age where words are the one of the most powerful weapons imaginable.
My name is Deonta Ridley and I want to share with you an example of the power of words.
I want to address some issues that are affecting the way we see freedom of speech. And I couldn’t think of a better way to explain the complications of free speech then to explore what’s going on over in the East.
This was a protest at Dhaka, Bangladesh. This one is over the local authorities’ inability to investigate the killing of secular blogger, Mohammad Nazim Uddin, who was brutally murdered for posting blog entries about atheism a few weeks ago. Over the years there have been conflicts with different ideologies. You would think that’s simple, but when we go further into how this all got started, it gets really crazy
Let’s go back in time to around the 1970s.
In 1971, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan in a very horrific war.
In November 1972, it established a democratic law for their new constitution.
We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our independence on the 26th day of March, 1971 and through a historic struggle for national liberation, established the independent, sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh;
Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in, the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution;
Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process a socialist society, free from exploitation a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens;
Affirming that it is our sacred duty to safeguard, protect and defend this Constitution and to maintain its supremacy as the embodiment of the will of the people of Bangladesh so that we may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards international peace and co operation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind;
In our Constituent Assembly, this eighteenth day of Kartick, 1379 B.S., corresponding to the fourth day of November, 1972 A.D., do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.
In 2010, the government of Bangladesh, headed by secularist Awani League established a tribunal to investigate the war crimes perpetrated during the bloody war in 1971. In February 2013, Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party (an Islamist party whose goal is to make Pakistan an Islamic state, governed by Sharia law) was sentenced to life in prison. However, people believed that life in prison was showing leniency to Abdul. They wanted him to be sentenced to death.
This sparked what would be long strings of protests in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The protests started on Shahbagh Square, and within a few hours, it would grow to a crowd that stretched for miles. Over the next few days, the protesters’ demands increased. Not only did they want Abdul to receive the death penalty, they also wanted death sentences for those convicted of war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal, a ban of Jamaat from Bangladeshi politics, and a boycott of Jamaat institutions.
WIth the help of Bangladeshi secular bloggers and writers, tons of thousands of people joined in on the demonstrations. Soon, the protests spread around their country.
Jamaat- e- Islami launched several counter protests, striking up many clashes that turned into violent encounters. Their protests came with some demands as well. They demanded the death penalty for the secular bloggers and writers, accusing them of writing blasphemous posts about Islam.
But wait. Writing, posting, and sharing blog entries about secularism isn’t a crime. According to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is a “secular democracy, where every religion has a right to be practiced freely and fairly”, and that “if anyone was found guilty of hurting the sentiments of the followers of any religion or its venerable figures, there was a law to deal with it.”
According to Article 295(a) of the Bangladeshi Penal Code:
“Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Bangladesh, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Islam is Bangladesh’s state religion. People who practice Islam make up 90 percent of its population.
However, the government have started arresting bloggers deemed to have insulted religious sentiments. Currently four bloggers are held under arrest and may face sentences up to 10 years imprisonment. Several websites have also been ordered to take down “insulting” posts and some have been closed completely.
Like I said at the beginning. The more you share, the louder your voice becomes, and the more attention you gain.
Some people thought these bloggers posed a threat to the sanctity of the Bangladesh’s way of life.
The local authorities want to end the madness and will probably do whatever it takes to calm down the side with the loudest voice at the time.
But going back and forth only goes so far. Soon or latter, it won’t be enough and people will take matters into their one hands.
In 2014, a group known as “The Defenders of Islam” published a hit list of 84 Bangladeshi bloggers and writers to the media. Since then, the attacks have become more frequent and more deadly.
They could go to the police, but politics have become a major priority and the government will most likely side with the one that guarantees the politicians another term in office. Some bloggers have even went as far as to leave their homeland to continue their writing.
According to Dr. Sanjay Asthana, a local professor at Middle Tennessee State University, believes that the individual are brave to be able to write about Bangladesh political bigotry. He also believes that their should be a religious reform soon because people who are getting killed and targeted are its own youth.
Not only does arresting bloggers and journalists go directly against the government’s avowed stance for secularism and democracy, it also gives legitimacy to the Islamists’ demands, even if the authorities promise that no changes in laws are to be made.
It seems that both the Islamists and the government are attempting to use the secular bloggers as means for political gain.
Mohammad Nazim Uddin is one of the 9 people out of 84 on that list who was killed.
Words can be one of the most powerful weapons imaginable. It makes people do the most extraordinary things or have the harshest consequences.
In the United States, we can say pretty much whatever we want, but we have to constantly think about where and when it is the right time to say it. I agree that people shouldn’t just spew out hatred about another person’s race or religion without facts to back it up. But when a person is trying to share criticism over what’s around them. Love it or hate it. It’s their right.
I hope by the end of this audio report, you look to understand more on how to exercise your right of free speech, take advantage of the freedoms you have in speaking your opinion, and above all, choose your words wisely. Because in an age where media and technology rein supreme, we must now ask ourselves this question.
How free is freedom of speech?