Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – I am an advocate of free speech. I always have been, and I probably always will be. I don’t want to keep anyone, through laws or violence, from having ideas and giving voice to them (if those ideas don’t directly endanger others). If I turn my back on that, I am no better than those extremists who would kill someone over an offensive cartoon.

That said, having your book deal pulled or having your appearance cancelled is not a violation of your freedom of speech. That constitutional concept gives you the right to your opinions — even atrocious ones — but it doesn’t guarantee you a platform from which to spread them. Free speech is not the enemy sir.

Freedom of speech and the open marketplace of ideas are not a guarantee that truth, justice or morality will prevail. The most that can be said is that freedom of expression is less bad than its alternatives such as governmental censorship, official truth squads or shutting down the marketplace of ideas.

Our constitution gives “freedom of speech” but it doesn’t guarantee “freedom after speech”. Let the truth prevail. Free speech is not the enemy, I repeat and if you say something offensive and degrading and counter-productive to society, you are likely to be held accountable for your speech. And what came to mind is the similar concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” There is the concept of being found legally guilty in a court of law, and being guilty as hell in people’s judgement.

However, this is only a specific protection of freedom of speech, not a definition of the concept. Freedom of speech is more than an amendment. It’s a principle, that those with power over us should not use that power to restrict what we can say and, similarly, if we have power over others, our power should not be used to restrict what they can say.

In brief, state prosecutors, the police, most times, are just overzealous. These laws, which we call “insult laws” have now fallen into disuse worldwide. And so, no need to give your country a bad name on such straight-forward issues. If someone has been defamed, best available option is to sue in a civil case! You cannot imprison thoughts. Thoughts are free!

The government is not the only thing with power over us. If you can inflict consequences, you have power. If you can pressure someone’s employer into firing them, you have power over them.

This is not about legality. It is about ethics and morality. It is about what should not be done, not what must not be done.

Those who point out that these internet activists are merely exercising their own freedom of speech are right but that does not mean what they are doing is not despicable. Someone who uses abusive epithets is exercising their freedom of speech but their behavior is not morally defensible.

Freedom of speech is important in a government which prides itself on following rules. Many governments explicitly put more power in the rules than in the people enforcing the rules. The logic is simple: people may not be trusted, but rules are rules.

If a government is unable to punish you for your speech because they officially have “free speech,” then they are forced to find other reasons/ways to punish you. This process is much harder than simply throwing you in jail for your speech directly.

In a dictatorship, “freedom of speech” refers to the government being able to shut you down, arrest you, jail you, or punish you in some way due to your speech. It does not apply to citizens who protest you, disagree with you, or in any way refuse to hear you. It does not guarantee you a pulpit. It does not guarantee you a venue or an outlet. It does not mean people must respect your desire to be heard.

You do not now nor have you ever had absolute free speech without protest nor without consequences.

Thank you, and please have a wonderful day.