“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom & no such thing as publick liberty without freedom of speech“, Benjamin Franklin, 1722.
What Franklin realised in 1722 is being felt across Sri Lanka in 2015. The proof can be seen on the national TV channels Rupavahini and ITN, which are no longer spreading false propaganda but discussing real national issues. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to express your honest views and ideas after the removal of the fear factor in a country ruled by a quasi dictators’ family.
Sri Lankans should not only understand, What is the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, but also ensure we don’t lose it, by sucking up to the rulers and making them follow the previous policies, for our individual benefit. Our people proved that the power of people is more powerful than the people in power. A warning to ignorant people was provided by Thomas Jefferson when he said; “no people can be both ignorant and free.” Business people who try to curtail or ruin this freedom through bribery, corruption or other means should be punished in a scheme to “name and shame”
All persons have the right to think freely, and to entertain ideas and hold positions based on conscientious or religious or other beliefs. Subject to certain limitations, persons also have the right to demonstrate or manifest religious or other beliefs, by way of worship, observance, practice and teaching. Legislation, policies and programs must respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, unless they clearly fall within one of the permissible limitations as set out. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is contained in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). (article 5 of the Convention is on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination).
Many journalists and intellectuals learnt the hard way as articulated by Voltaire, (The Age of Louis XIV) that “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
Many in our country believed in the following quote and migrated to other countries for the sake of their childrens’ education;
“It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” ― James Baldwin
What the country experienced in the last decade is captured by the following quote;
“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” ― James Madison
Let us all learn our lessons from these American Presidents who fought, fight and may continue to fight to protect the freedoms guaranteed under the US constitution, without changing it every time the President sneezes or whenever the Chief Justice catches a cold!
May the Freedom of thought and expression continue to flourish in this country called the Miracle of Asia. hope our new President will provide leadership for this cause.