The story of Hari & freedom of speech

Last week, Johann Hari wrote an article defending free speech for everyone. You can read the article here: Why should I respect these oppressive religions?. This article was reprinted in the Indian newspaper, The Statesman. This led to riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article!

They have been charged — in the world’s largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech — with “deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings”.

And this, in a secular country!

So far Johann Hari has refused to apologize for what he wrote, and rightfully so. In this piece in the Huffingtonpost titled: Despite the Riots and Threats, I Stand By What I Wrote. The entire article is worth reading in full but here is a key quote:

Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth — especially in a democracy of a billion people rivven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.

I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India’s hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want — as long as I too have the right to respond.

I don’t think anybody could have said it more clearly and emphatically. For more information on this read the blog Butterflies and Wheels.

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