One of the most effective measures that oppressive regimes use the world over is the limitation of the freedom of speech and thoughts. This can also be interpreted to mean the freedom of expression that is sometimes manifested in the press. Autocratic governments stifle the freedom of expression of their citizens and thus create an atmosphere of fear in them. This autocracy is a way of concealing in a very strategic fashion, their evil, both locally and more so internationally.
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In an effort to understand why certain states curtail the freedom of speech, it is imperative to appreciate why this freedom is important to the citizens of any country. The first of this is based on the principle of truth. The governance of a state should be founded on the concrete tenets of truth and the respect for it. For democracy to work properly, the freedom of speech should not be limited. Citizens should be allowed to exercise free speech and to be able to perform their social duties effectively.
On a more personal note, the freedom of expression promotes in the people a sense of self-realization. The freedom of speech guarantees that no one should be restrained from exercising it and secondly, no punishment should be meted on the one who exercises it. Restraint can mean the mulling of press freedom, the publication and subsequent dissemination of vital information to the people.
Oppressive governments make laws that control the freedom of speech in its various forms. These laws are stipulated in licenses, censorship agencies, judicial authority on publication through court injunctions, and prohibition of unauthorized advertising of any material. There are, however, instances when the freedom of speech may be controlled or regulated by a government. The freedom of speech can also result in legal consequences or punitive action before or after it is exercised.
This can happen when the freedom is abused to the extent that it causes harm to the public or it negates national interests. This can also happen when it contravenes or endangers national security. It can also be prevented when it is deemed to incite crime or when it is a breach to peace. Obscene language, seditious information, slanderous information, and libel cannot enjoy immunity from either prohibition or punishment (Smith 9).
Having thus understood why freedom of speech is important, it is important to make an analysis of how various regimes across the world control this freedom. The analysis is based on the two ideologies of communism and democracy. We shall see how communism and democracy have a bearing on the freedom of speech. Communism as an establishment is based on a classless society where all citizens are considered equal to a certain extent.
On the one hand, democracy as a system is founded on the rule of the people through elected representatives. In communism, power is vested in a few individuals who provide direction by making key decisions. The few individuals may interfere with the life of the public in a negative manner as we shall see in other sections of this paper. In a democracy, the chosen representatives pursue the will of the people who elect them.
Whatever the representatives do and say should reflect the interests of the people. The two systems of governance are different in terms of their economic order. Communist states exercise absolute control of all resources in terms of their production and subsequent distribution. The national returns are shared equally among the population in a communist state. In a democracy, the rights and freedoms of the people are upheld and protected by the constitution.
In our incisive analysis, we are going to see how the freedom of speech is treated in communist and democratic states. We shall first examine the countries that top the list in terms of the oppression of the freedom of speech and the similarities in their systems of governments. Heading the list is North Korea.
Its system of government is deeply rooted in a Stalinist model of autocratic communism. The freedom of speech is curtailed. All the press which includes radio, television and local newspapers is controlled by the state. Second in this list is Burma. In Burma, the media is state controlled.
The country’s three television channels are controlled by the government and all the media content is assessed before it is disseminated to the public. Content that is considered harmful to the government is then filtered out. Turkmenistan is third in the list. Like the other two countries mentioned earlier, the media in this country is state owned. All content of the media has to be censored by government appointed officials who play the role of editors.
It is interesting to mention that the president’s picture has to feature prominently in the first page of the country’s local Daily in Turkmenistan. Equatorial Guinea is placed a distant fourth.
All media is owned and controlled by the state except a television and a radio channel that is owned by the son of the country’s current president. Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was the Arab’s world most oppressive state in terms of the freedom of speech. (Smith 34). The oppression also permeated in all other sectors of the economy precipitating a bloody people’s revolution.
The successful revolution aided by some European countries and the United States not only unseated Colonel Gaddafi from power but led to his death in battle. Eritrea, an African state joins this least as the only country in sub -Saharan Africa that does not have an outlet for private media. All activities of the media in this tiny country located in the Horn of Africa are subject to intensive monitoring by the State’s agencies.
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Cuba, a communist state, is another country where the freedom of speech is controlled by the government. The government purports to recognize the freedom of the press but this is only if the freedom is exercised within the interests of the state (Cudd 20). This is indeed a mockery of the freedom of speech. The Communist Party controls all the media and its activities. Internet access is controlled and the government regulates and owns all outlets of the media.
Cuba is second to China as the leading jailer of journalists in the world. In Uzbekistan, the government has put in place leadership structures that resemble those of the former United Soviet Socialist Republic. It is to be remembered that the U.S.S.R was a communist state prior to its disintegration. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has distinguished itself as a leading oppressor of the freedom of speech. Journalists are frequently harassed, and tortured by the police (Guillaumin 27).
Syria under the rule of president Bashar al-Assad has been in the world news for the wrong reasons. In reaction to the oppressive regime of president Bashar, people took to the streets to protest against the rule of president Bashar. The people’s revolt, though protracted was a testament of the misrule in this country. The media in Syria is also is state controlled.
The few private media companies that exist in Syria are owned by conformists and supporters of the regime. Censorship takes the form of licenses which are issued only by the Prime Minister. In Belarus, all the media is state owned. The seating president Aleksandra Lukashenko is usually a subject of praise by the broadcast and print media and anyone who is perceived to criticize the president risks being jailed for a maximum of five years.
Of interest to this study is the Peoples Republic of China. The history of the oppression in China dates back to 1921 when the Chinese Communist Party was formed by Mao Zedong. Mao borrowed much from Karl Marx and the Russian experience. China just like all other communist states adopted an authoritarian rule where all aspects of the lives its people were dictated by the government.
China has lately moved away from some of the totalitarian attributes of communism. This is exhibited by a move towards a free market economy. This has worked towards creating a country that is the economic giant that China is today.
On the social and political front, a lot still need to be done as the freedom of expression is still curtailed by the government. State departments no longer control the mobilization of resources and consequent processes like distribution and pricing. The economic engine of China has therefore continued roaring towards economic success but other freedoms have yet to be given a lease of life. (Guillaumin 48). The media is censored by the government and broadcast and print journalism are both regulated by the government.
The Internet has however revolutionized the information age making it hard for the Chinese government to regulate or track all the information. A culmination of oppressive practices by the government of China led to a wave of violent protests mainly from students in 1989. The fall of communism during the same period also inspired the protests. The protests in China were seen as having been against the ideological concept of communism.
Many people were killed in Tiananmen Square in the heat of the revolt as the government of China finally succeeded in quelling the revolt. One of the measures that the Chinese government adopted and which dealt a severe blow to the freedom of speech was the resolution that communication between the citizens had played a pivotal role in fuelling the mass protests in Tiananmen. The freedom of speech had to be controlled by the state from that time henceforth.
A sect named the Falun Gong which had begun initially as a religious outfit was banned during the very period when the 1989 riots were gaining momentum. The Falun Gong was gaining popularity among the people of China and was therefore seen as a veritable threat to the government of China. Internet crackdown on links that led to the access of the sites of the Falun Gong was initiated and the sect was ultimately outlawed in 1999. Some of its members was imprisoned without being accorded legal hearings. Others were subjected to human rights abuses like torture. In modern day China, the government has made attempts towards blocking the use of the internet or to control its use for fear that it would promote communication between the citizens to the detriment of the government.
In conclusion, several ideas in perspective are seen to promote the oppression of the freedom of speech and thoughts. All the governments that stifle the freedom of speech and thoughts exercise absolute authority.(Cudd 22). The authorities exercise unlimited power to regulate the freedom of speech.
This is not the case in the more democratic countries where there is freedom of speech. Some of the countries in the world that are considered to have a free press include Australia, France, Canada, Britain, the United States, Belgium and the Bahamas to mention but a few. Countries which negate the best practices of the freedom of speech use unorthodox methods to indoctrinate the population in a bid to stem the possibility of the development of a revolt.
They make the public believe that any amount of resistance against the authorities will be punished severely. They also teach them through societal institutions of religion, the family, the school, and the state controlled media that their suffering is deserved. Religious institutions in these countries teach the populations to have faith in the suffering they undergo as it is bound to be compensated in life after death. The authorities also mete out terror systematically on the public.
It must be reckoned that governments must use power effectively. Power is more often an offshoot of greater control of resources. These resources take the form of wealth, organizational skills, weapons, and knowledge. The utilitarian value of power rests not in the control of wealth but in the mobilization of resources for meaningful power whose use is commensurate to the needs of the people. The freedom to exercise free speech and thoughts is part of the needs of any citizens in a free country.
Cudd, Ann E.Analysing Oppression.Oxford: University Press, 2006:11-35
Guillaumin, Colette. Racism, Sexism, Power and Ideology.london: Routledge, 1995:23-50
Smith, Morgan. Why I stick it to the man, and why you should too. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008:1-36