A propos the growing furor regarding freedom of speech, & specifically the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed: glaring inconsistencies in the application of this principle are appearing in western countries which give rise to (well grounded) accusations of double standards. Since equality before the law – irrespective of religion, race, gender or citizenship - is another fundamental principle of democracies, it is time that we re-assessed the situation to ensure at least a minimum level of consistency.
1. Apparently freedom of information is not desirable when it comes to showing new images of torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib. The US State Department is concerned that these may "fan the flames around the world and cause potentially further violence". In line with this, according to the BBC, only one of three US network news bulletins broadcast any information at all about the new images.
2. Apparently also freedom of speech is not paramount in certain historical contexts. The holocaust-denying British historian David Irving faces up to 10 years imprisonment when he goes on trial next week in Austria where, like Germany, Holocaust denial is against the law.
3. Finally, freedom of information (or even freedom to an equitable trial) is absolutely bottom of the list when it comes to the rights of non-persons – the 500 or so prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who have been held without due process for up to 4 years in some cases. The US has dismissed the recent UN report on Guantanamo as highly inadequate since the 5 investigators never visited the prison and did not quote first sources. However, they were not granted unrestricted and private access to prisoners. The Pentagon has said only the International Committee of the Red Cross needs free access to prisoners – which is convenient since, in exchange for unrestricted access, the Red Cross has undertaken the tough decision never to divulge details of abuses of any government.
Freedom of speech, or even equality of right to speech? There is a long way to go.