Free speech refers to the fundamental right of individuals to express their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ideas without censorship or interference from the government or other authorities.

It is essential for safeguarding individual autonomy and the freedom to express oneself.

It allows individuals to voice their opinions, challenge prevailing norms, and engage in political, social, and cultural debates without fear of retribution.

It promotes personal growth, self-fulfillment, and the exploration of new ideas.

Free speech is closely linked to the pursuit of truth and the advancement of knowledge. By allowing a marketplace of ideas, it enables the exchange of information, innovation, and intellectual development. Different perspectives and dissenting opinions can lead to the discovery of new solutions, improvements, and societal progress.

It also serves as a check on the abuse of power by those in authority, allowing individuals to criticise and hold governments, institutions, and public figures accountable for their actions.

It all seems so obvious and self-evident.

Burning witches at the stake

During Joseph Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, censorship was employed extensively to stifle opposition and maintain strict control over society.

This included the suppression of critical voices, censorship of literature, and control over the media. The Great Purge, a period of widespread political repression, led to the imprisonment, execution, and death of millions of Soviet citizens.

In 1994, the Rwandan genocide occurred, in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis were systematically murdered by Hutus.

The Hutu-led government controlled the media and used it as a tool for propaganda, spreading hateful speech and inciting violence against the Tutsis. Censorship played a crucial role in dehumanising the Tutsis and fuelling the mass murder.

Andrew Lawton is an author and broadcaster.

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