"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter"
In the eyes of law, Buet student Abrar Fahad did nothing wrong by criticising the bilateral deals between Dhaka and New Delhi allowing India to withdraw water from the Feni River and to take liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Bangladesh.
When he posted his remarks on Facebook on Saturday afternoon he was exercising his constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression like all other citizens.
The Buet boy was also entitled to the inalienable fundamental right to protection of law. No action detrimental to his life, liberty and body was allowed without following the proper legal procedure even if his remarks were considered as an offence.
Moreover, Abrar was legally protected from being subjected to torture or cruel or inhumane or degrading punishment.
Alas! No constitutional rights worked to protect him as he was found guilty of committing grievous "CRIME" for his Facebook post in the eyes of some unruly Chhatra League leaders who "punished" him to death.
The heinous crime took place at a time when the law enforcers are carrying out a crackdown on the corrupt and casino kingpins from the Jubo League.
The crackdown seems to have failed to send any warning to the camp of overzealous Chhatra League leaders. It seems they bother little about others' right to freedom of speech. They only want their opinions to prevail on others' rights – be it right to life or right to free speech.
The brutal killing of Abrar is the latest example of an assault on free speech too as he was mercilessly beaten to death for his dissenting voice.
Those who were accused of the killing may be put on the dock on charge of the crime. But, who will be held accountable and put on the dock for assaulting free speech and for the growing culture of intolerance responsible for this incident?
Now, everyone including the ministers and ruling party leaders are condemning the heinous crime and assuring Abrar's family of justice.
The killers may get punished one day. But only punishing a few individuals will contribute little to curing the monstrous disease of intolerance rooted deep in our political culture.
In the past, we saw some actions in the wake of public outburst. We can cite here the brutal murder of Biswajit Das by some Chhatra League men in 2012 and the subsequent trial of the killers.
A few years down the line, the Abarar murder now proves the unruly Chhatra League leaders learnt nothing. This time around they found dissenting voice as their enemy.
Do we think free speech is unworthy to defend and protect?
The value of freedom of speech is unqualified. It reinforces all other human rights. It allows society to develop and progress. The ability to express our opinions and speak freely is essential to bring about changes in society.
People need access to government documents to form their opinion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights categorically upholds this right by proclaiming that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression and this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds by any means.
The good thing is Bangladesh does not opt for staying isolated. Our constitution has since guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. We also enacted the Right to Information law in 2008, allowing people to seek information from the government.
But we have miserably failed to develop institutions to protect our constitutional rights, effectively enforce the laws and improve political culture required for the exercise of free speech. So, we suffer.
In view of the advocates of free speech, even your enemies should not be denied of freedom of speech. You should listen to them. You may find food for thought in their speeches.
The murder of Abrar for his dissenting voice proves again we are far behind that standard.
Again, the onus lies on the politicians who are in power and in opposition to change the pervasive culture.
There are many examples across the world how suppression of free speech gave birth to dangerous situations as warned by George Washington a long time ago: "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."