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Free Speech Under Threat In South Asia!

Dr Bärbel Kofler – the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid – has expressed serious concern over the human rights situation in South Asia. The German official, who recently visited India, claimed that the narrow space for free speech and civil society started posing a serious threat to the South Asian society and its members. She told the local media that the disturbing trend was a real cause for concern in democratic countries.
Asked to comment on the current state of human rights in India, Kofler said that although the South Asian nation has been trying hard to improve the human rights situation, it would have to identify its faults first. She advised the concerned authorities in India to examine the situation of minority rights and women’s rights carefully, apart from taking all the necessary steps to ensure equality and security for women. According to Kofler, India and other countries in the region should sensitise the poor section of people about their basic rights, or else these people could never enjoy those rights.


Dr Kofler

Meanwhile, the German government official has showered praises on the Indian Supreme Court for delivering some important judgements that could ensure the basic rights of every Indian national. At the same time, she admitted that (still) there were some major challenges. Kofler has strongly criticised the top political leadership in India for using the sedition and defamation laws against human rights activists. She clearly said that the “shrinking spaces” are a tendency across the globe right now and India is no exception. “Opinions have a right to be heard, to be expressed and the right to be protected. It is a sign of weakness if the majority is not mature enough to accept other opinions,” she told the press.
Commenting on the increasing number of sexual violence against women in India in recent times, Kofler stressed: “I am deeply disturbed by this violence, which I know cannot be changed just like that by law. It needs to be focused on social debate and education and this needs to be broadened at different points at school and community levels.” She opined that India needs to change its perceptions of women’s role in the society, as “the root of the problem has to do with mindset”. However, it is difficult to change our mindset, insisted the seasoned German politician. She believes that the #MeToo campaign can help change the mindset of the Indians to some extent.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, a number of bloggers and human rights activists have been murdered in the last couple of years. For Kofler, it’s a big cause for concern. “Free speech is increasingly under threat not only in South Asia, but also across the world. As a result of these threats to them and their families, many people are afraid of speaking out. Civil society is unable to work freely in many parts of the world,” she further said.
Speaking at a media conference in the Indian capital, the human rights policy commissioner said: “The killings of bloggers in Bangladesh worry me. But the problem is not limited to that country; journalists and activists face threats to their lives all over the world. I don’t want to point fingers at any one particular nation and ignore the rest, but I do acknowledge that it’s a severe problem in many Asian countries. Every society needs diverse views and public debate, and we have the right to fight for that.

Kofler didn’t forget to mention that ‘vigilante justice’ was another problem confronted by many societies. She categorically said that vigilante justice is basically a misuse of public emotions and feelings by the people with vested interests. She insisted that democratic countries should protect their each and every citizen, irrespective of their political or religious affiliation.
The senior German official raised an important issue during her recent trip to India. However, it seems that rulers in South Asia are in no mood to respect free speech as they are trying to establish an authoritarian culture in the region.

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