Scope of freedom of expression

Dark Art

No freedom is absolute.

My freedom ends where the tip of your nose starts. There is only one principle of fairness: I should not do something against a person which I would not expect that person to do against me.

Cape Town artists Brett Murray has painted a 1.85m-high painting titled “The Spear” in which he has depicted President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed. …. The government was calling on the gallery to take down the painting and wanted the media to stop publicising it, said Manyi. Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said he respected artists’ works and upheld their right to freedom of expression, but asked that they respect the rights of others. …..”This picture is offensive and disrespectful not only to an individual, but to the democratically elected President of South Africa and therefore to the whole country and the people of South Africa,” Cosatu said. (Source: http://www.thenewage.co.za/51152-1007-53-Zuma_painting_against_Ubuntu_African_morality_culture)

I hold no tender feelings for politicians but I was curious why he depicted Zuma in this way. What is the background. Whatever may be provocation, if this is freedom of speech, then right hurl abuses towards those in power, must be elevated to fundamental right and family members of person abused must be forced to hear the abuses in exercise of this right. This is perversion of art for political revenge. It really leaves bad taste . It is cheap way to seek publicity and must be deprecated.

© Sandeep Bhalla

Failed Generation, Solar Films and VIP’s

Short analysis of Supreme Court’s unreasonable decision to ban the use of solar films on cars in India.

It is very rare for judges to reach out of their Ivory Tower and express about the ground realities of life. In one such rare occasion, recently Supreme Court judge G S Singhvi speaking at a seminar observed:

“It is sad to say that my generation has failed the nation. In a country where 700 million people live below the poverty line, we tend to talk about justice. We talk about our fundamental rights being trampled upon but what about those people who do not get two square meals a day, have no right to education, shelter, clothing and other basic amenities. The country is divided into rural and urban and the idea about equality and fraternity needs to be pondered about and the entire process of development had taken place at the cost of rural people  ……….. I feel guilty when I read about equality and fraternity and think about the labourers and farmers who have made our lives comfortable and easy. The ‘jan sevaks’ (Public Servants) are fast becoming our masters, the first citizens followed by the rich and the poor only as third class citizens.”  (Source: http://m.timesofindia.com/Young-lawyers-facing-multiple-challenges-Supreme-Court-judge/articleshow/13112646.cms)

Constitutionalism in India means that people’s sovereignty is supreme and unlimited and the constituents of the state have limited powers.” (Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-26/nagpur/31100894_1_culture-guest-lecture-justa-causa)

The problem is that we all know about the failures. But what will take it to put into practice? What about the class called VIP’s? Who are they and why they are VIP’s? Problem is that only thing we see in focus is MONEY and DOMINATION. All we have to do is to do our own work diligently, even if some time, the reciprocation is not fair. It is not easy but practice can make anyone perfect. I will misquote Gandhi: ‘When you do something, remember the face of the poorest of poor’.

As regards the second part, it is another story. While Constitutionalism means Rule of law and not Fiats issued at Will; another decision of Supreme Court nearly rubs it on wrong way. Following direction has been given by Supreme Court:

We have no hesitation in holding that use of black films or any other material upon safety glass, windscreen and side windows is impermissible. In terms of Rule 100(2), 70 per cent and 50 per cent VLT standard are relatable to the manufacture of the safety glasses for the windshields (front and rear) and the side windows respectively. Use of films or any other material upon the windscreen or the side windows is impermissible in law. It is the VLT of the safety glass without any additional material being pasted upon the safety glasses which must conform with manufacture specifications. ….. The competent officer of the traffic police or any other authorized person shall challan such vehicles for violating Rules 92 and 100 of the Rules with effect from the specified date and thereupon shall also remove the black films from the offending vehicles. (Full judgment is here.)

The supreme court of india. Taken about 170 m ...

The supreme court of India. Taken about 170 m from the main building outside the perimeter wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By one stroke of pen, an entire industry has been struck off. I wonder if they were a party to it. If not then it is violative of principles of natural justice. It beyond logical comprehension that if Manufacturer does not apply tinted glasses, I can not apply solar film to it? Off course it must meet statutory standard. Merely because law enforcement agency do not have technical equipment, all films are to be removed. By same logic why not every person be kept in lock and key at night as most crimes are committed at night. Curfew will be even better. Passes can be issued to VIP’s to wander at night, under Rules. Yes ban the liquor/Alcohol. A large number crime are committed under its influence. Licenses can be issued to VIP’s for that as well.

Judgment relies upon the practice of not using films in countries where the maximum temperature never exceeds 25 degrees. Here it touches 48 degrees centigrade every summer. In fact the word ‘weather’ does not even occurs in the judgment. The very basis of applying solar films is missing. Thus the judgment shall be hit by Wednesbury’s arbitrariness as it excludes an important and relevant fact from consideration while deciding an issue and therefore is not a reasonable judgment. Those interested in full judgment of Wednesbury’s case, can find it here. Some other arguments have been raised by another Gentleman here and therefore are not repeated.

Another legal issue is that this order has been passed under article 32 of Constitution and is purported to enforce article 21  of Constitution in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Article 21 guarantees right to life to every citizen. If today a Habeas Corpus petition is filed in Supreme Court saying that life of a girl is in danger, Supreme Court will not entertain that petition and ask the party to go to respective High Court. Was solar film matter so important that Supreme Court could not have waited for the opinion of High Courts?

Now a days, if there is a stray cow sitting upon a pavement, people joke that it has a stay order from Supreme Court or High Court in a PIL on animal rights. So much for PIL fiats.

P.S.: As for me, I have tinted glasses in my car. I never needed solar film, but now I think I will have black curtains and would have a feel of a VIP. Is there any rule against curtains?

© Sandeep Bhalla

Prisoners and Human Rights.

Prison discipline v. Human Rights

This era is called modern age or information age. How low a democratic country can stoop to maintain its dominance and to ensure obedience of its commands? The answer is, at its lowest! It can force its prisoners to live in its own excreta, like animals. Find it unbelievable?  It was long time ago that I had watched a movie titled ‘Some mother’s son’ and a part of its story was shocking. It was a movie about a Bobby Sands who was allegedly convicted for the crime of terrorism (by possessing a gun) as a member of Irish Republican Army. The question about guilt or about the method of IRA is irrelevant. What is relevant that when we adopt our polity as democratic, the citizens are supreme. Irrespective of the fact whether such citizen is a delinquent. Vow in favor of human rights is not a matter of internal debate but it is a commitment to every citizen. Therefore it must extend to every prisoner whatever may be the reason for imprisonment . Among prisoners, the only classification permissible is on the basis of their security or escape attempts or may be health.

Human rights worst than animals?

What are the animal rights in this country? If you do not know, they are not to be treated with cruelty even if the animals are on way to be butchered.  The Rules for establishing butcher house (in India) are here

In 1981, Margret Thacher was the Prime Minister of United Kingdom. She had no  reputation of being a cruel monster. Whether she was a good person or not is still being debated. In 1981 Great Britain was facing many challenges including an armed rebellions from Irish Republican Army, which according to the Government, was an organization of terrorists. Bobby Sands like many other convicts was confined to prison. He along-with his fellow inmates violated prison discipline by refusing to wear prison uniform. They were roaming in blankets only, a protest which had continued since 1978. In 1981 the Change of prison authority brought a new stubborn administrator (I could not know the name), he restricted their movement outside their cells without proper uniform. Hence they were forced to shit and pee in their prison cells. They smeared the walls of their prison cells with their excreta. About fourteen years ago, when I had looked up and searched the Internet, above was the story. Now Wikipedia states they were prevented not to move out of prison cell due to some security reason. No official statement about this aspect is available. However I am not ready to assume that few human beings would choose to live in their own excreta. It was a clear case of enforcement of discipline at the cost of human right. As per BBC these were the demands of Bobby Sands:

Bobby Sands, who had served five years of a 14-year sentence for possessing a gun, began his hunger strike on 1 March.He had softened his stance since the first strike and this time was making five main demands: that republican prisoners be allowed to wear their own clothes, that they be given free association time, visits and mail, that they should not to have to carry out penal work and should be given back lost remission.(source http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/5/newsid_2728000/2728309.stm)

This also does not talk about the living in human excreta.

Governments responses are always cold!

Bobby Sands and others resorted to hunger strike. Bobby Sands died on 4th May 1981. I wonder, had he survived, this aspect of gross violation of human rights by British Government could have been exposed. This is the official response:

In response to a question in the House of Commons on 5 May 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims”. The official announcement of Sands’ death in the House of Commons omitted the customary expression of sense of loss and sympathy with the family of the member. (Extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Sands)

The Prime Minister or the Government felt no remorse. The statement in Parliament reflect the attitude of ‘end justifies means’. This is the dangerous result of every war. Two enemies begin to look the same.  There is no denial that human race is facing the worst world war III a.k.a. war against terrorism, which does not even touch human compassion as far as the terrorists are concerned, but should we also become like our enemy? If we do, we had lost the war even before it started.Recently another movie has been made on the subject and its review vividly depicts the horrible situation:

Like Sands, the prisoners at those hellholes were being held without trial and without formal charges. But the most troubling comparisons are in the way prisoners are abused, humiliated and tortured by sadistic guards.McQueen never flinches in his graphic depictions of these shocking abuses of power and authority, but you might. It’s ugly and it shakes you to the bone.Yet, even if you don’t agree with the practices and beliefs of the IRA, you can’t help but admire the courage and tenacity of the inmates in fighting for what they believe in. And what they believed more than anything and what Sands and nine of his comrades died for was their right to be treated like prisoners of war instead of common criminals.Thatcher and the administrators at Belfast’s notorious Maze prison thought otherwise. And the more the prisoners protested, the more they dished out the punishment.Something McQueen duly notes as he bombards you with haunting images of prisoners lying naked in unlit cells caked with feces and reeking from the jars of urine they’ve stored up to dump into the prison’s halls. One can only imagine the stench, the filth, and the misery.  (Extracted from MOVIE REVIEW: Film depicts IRA’s Bobby Sands starvation crusade – Quincy, MA – The Patriot Ledger.)

Where is compassion for human life?

We can not shirk our responsibility by saying, we can not find a solution. We have to find one. If nothing else we can start with compassion. We have to tread very cautious line and remember that most basic human rights have been trampled upon to uphold the institutional ego/discipline or for a noble or divine object. The fact that some of the material which was available on the net, a decade ago, is gone, does not smell good either.

© Sandeep Bhalla

Related Posts

Due process of law in 1354, 1772, 1791, 1955, 1973, 2008 and 2012!

Rule of law

Privacy and double standards

War Crimes

Testimony of a businessman

While a common person on the street, is trying to make out as to what is happening and how much people know about the things which are personal to him, a businessman is unconcerned either with the truth or the justice. It is just another reckless instance of violation of privacy in which different versions of truth appear after the event. My question is what are the steps taken ‘NOW’. Does Mr. Murdoch assures us that at no level his publications/channels will not use private investigators to find out so-called truth about people’s life? Does he assures that good old principles of journalism would be preferred over these new age technology driven intrusion? Would Governments of the day come forward and assure the citizens that it is none of their business to intrude into lives of people only on the basis of suspicion? I do not think so. So it would be business as usual.

Even as their onetime proprietor was disassociating himself from the newspaper he owned for 31 years, former News of the World employees were expressing disbelief at what Hayley Barlow, a former News of the World publicist, called his “black sheep strategy.”  “Is this the same man who once stormed into our editorial conference after we had won a raft of industry awards, fawning all over NOTW execs,” Ms. Barlow asked on Twitter, saying he had praised the “great paper,” and “great journalists.” Another former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing a severance package, said of Mr. Murdoch: “He will say whatever he thinks is the best thing to say at a given moment.”

Mr. Myler, the editor Mr. Murdoch accused of participating in the cover-up with Mr. Crone, is now editor of The New York Daily News, rival of the Murdoch-owned New York Post. Mr. Myler did not respond to e-mails or phone messages to his office seeking a comment. He and Mr. Crone told a parliamentary committee last summer that in 2008, they told Mr. Murdoch’s son James of allegations that phone hacking might be widespread at The News of the World. James Murdoch has consistently maintained that the pair did no such thing and that he knew nothing about it.

Speaking of Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Crone said: “It is perhaps no coincidence that the two people he has identified in relation to his cover-up allegations are the same two people who pointed out that his son’s evidence to the parliamentary select committee last year was inaccurate.” ( Source: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/world/europe/in-testifying-murdoch-cites-a-cover-up-in-hacking.xml)

Privacy and double standards

Old Gestapo Prison in the EL-DE Museum

Old Gestapo Prison in the EL-DE Museum (Photo credit: Aaron Olaf)

Yesterday 26th April was day on which one of the most cruel Government Machinery of oppression was created. It was Gestapo! The Geheime Staatspolizei (German for Secret State Police, abbreviated “Gestapo”) was the secret police of Nazi Germany. It was instrumental in creating a havoc which has no parallel in human history. The ignoble role of Gestapo is aptly narrated as under:

During World War II, the Einsatzgruppen (“Task Force”, mobile killing squads) was formed, and came to be an integral part of the Gestapo. It was the Einsatzgruppen‘s job to round up all the Jews and other “undesirables” living within Germany’s newly conquered territories, and to either send them to concentration camps or put them to death.  At the end of 1940, when the Jews in Eastern Europe were interned in ghettos, the Gestapo was charged with guarding and supervising the ghettos, imposing forced labor, and causing starvation and disease in an effort to decimate the ghetto inhabitants. After the invasion of Russia in 1941, the decision was made to kill all the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and the Gestapo was called upon to supervise the dispatch of the Jews to the camps specially adapted or constructed for the program of mass murder. The Gestapo units excelled in their unabated and premeditated cruelty, in their ability to delude its intended victims as to the fate that awaited them, and in the use of barbaric threats and torture to lead the victims to their death, all as part of the “Final Solution.” The units were taught many torture techniques, and were also taught many of the practices that German doctors in Dachau tested on the inmates of concentration camps. During its tenure, the Gestapo operated without any restrictions from the civil authority, meaning that its members could not be tried for any of their police practices. This unconditional authority added an elitist element to the Gestapo; its members knew that whatever actions they took, no consequences would arise. (Source: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Gestapo.html.

What is the parallel? Have we learned any lessons from the past?  Please read the italicized words again. Now every country under the guise of threat of terrorism is arming its police with same authority. How so ever noble this idea may be, but it has serious repercussions. People languishing in Prisons for months together, without any protection. Courts refusing to look into these matters, fearing its own safety. The war, even if won, is lost on the anvil of human rights. Once such drastic powers of intrusion into privacy through electronic surveillance, based only on suspicion is unleashed, it tends to lose its direction. Even the most authoritarian regimes are not able to control it. Following is an excerpt from news on China, how its surveillance techniques were misdirected for personal ambition:

When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anti-corruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped – by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.  The story of how China’s president was monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state. To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another – repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule.

“This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”

Party officials, however, say it would be far too damaging to make the wiretapping public. When Mr. Bo is finally charged, wiretapping is not expected to be mentioned. “The things that can be publicized are the economic problems and the killing,” according to the senior official at the government media outlet. “That’s enough to decide the matter in public.” (Source:http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/asia/bo-xilai-said-to-have-spied-on-top-china-officials.xml)

Another example is Colombia:

Illegal spying on human rights activists and journalists is still happening in Colombia, according to a new report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ………  the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states in its report for 2011, presented Monday Feb. 27 in Bogotá, that it continued receiving reports about illegal spying, especially from human rights defenders and journalists. The OHCHR report on the situation of human rights in Colombia says ‘there has been uncorroborated information on the involvement of State agents, including members of civilian and military intelligence services, in illegal and clandestine operations. ‘Most cases have not been resolved. If no significant progress is made in preventing, investigating and punishing these acts, it will be difficult to guarantee non-repetition,’ it adds. (source: http://www.globalissues.org/news/2012/02/28/12838)

Incidents like this, a plenty in every country, show what a loose cannon it can be.There have been numerous incidents of wire-tapping all over the world including India and USA. Needless to mention that intrusion into privacy is expressly forbidden by 4th Amendment to the USA Constitution.See this link on invasion of privacy in USA.

My point is, it all begins with unnecessary intrusion into the lives of people. Or are we going back to dark ages when people merely holding a secret meeting were burned alive for hearsay or sedition. All in the name of common good. It is a wake up call. Would some body take it? Would United Nation, which on political issues, is already defunct rise to the occasion and ensure that all Governments commit to some standard on intrusion of people’s lives?

It is only when life of rich and influential is intruded by such measures, that it comes to light. Incidents when businessmen use state machinery to espionage on each other or when police arrest people merely on wire-tapped conversation, which it obviously can not reveal, remain clouded in secrecy. Even today. Truth is intrusion into lives of people and secrecy in affairs of State, precedes physical and mental torture of citizens. Respect for human liberty is an absolute respect it can not be in partial. (Remember Guantanamo Bay) and what about Bobby Sand.

Countries like UK is considering to give sweeping powers to itself to hold secret court hearing where such material would be accepted unchallenged. It is an accepted public opinion on the part of jurists that:

“It would permit the extension of closed material procedures, in which claimants and their lawyers are excluded from court and refused sight of government evidence, to any civil claim, whenever a minister considers that openness is against the ‘public interest’. This violates two of the most basic principles of our common law system: the right of every party to know the case against them, so that they can answer it; and the principle that there must be equality of arms between parties in court. It would permit secret hearings, and the giving of secret judgments by courts, accessible only to the government.” (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/mar/06/secret-court-hearings-government-law)

But will we learn anything from history? The noose is tightening. Democracy is supposed to be least hostile towards citizen. It is not expected to be efficient. It is good if it is but that is not in issue. Real issue is that these different measures which vest vast powers in few hands are inherently evil.

© Sandeep Bhalla