John Stuart Mill, one of the original utilitarian thinkers, often dubbed as the most influential English speaking political philosopher of nineteenth century, in his book On Liberty emphasised that even flawed, loathsome opinions should be allowed to be expressed freely. The rationale behind Mill’s theory is that in presence of erroneous opinions, correct opinions become more firmly established by what may be called as the “dialectical process of a struggle” with erroneous opinions. Mill’s theory is absolutely correct, as freedom of expression rests on the hypothesis that the power of thought has to be accepted in the free market of ideas. Opinions, views and thoughts can’t be artificially suppressed; instead they should be allowed to be discarded by society naturally.A few days ago, The News reporter Ahmed Noorani, a fierce critic of Pakistan’s military, intelligence agencies and (nowadays) of the apex judiciary was dragged outside his car by six unidentified armed assailants and brutally assaulted. Noorani suffered serious injuries and was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment. According to media reports, it is still uncertain who the culprits were. However, one thing is certain; that some people weren’t too pleased with Noorani’s latest journalistic ventures. I myself don’t subscribe to the opinions which were being expressed by Noorani in the last two months. His recent crusade against the military and apex judiciary were offensive and unjustifiable. Noorani presented even the most trivial matters salaciously, which lead to the unprovoked defamation of important state information. Furthermore, Noorani did his best to create the impression that the 28 July Panama verdict was the outcome of collusion between the military establishment and the apex judiciary.As a practitioner of law, I felt that his tweets and news reports in regarding the apex judiciary were scandalous and contemptuous. As a courtesy by the judiciary, his tweets and reports were ignored. His statements fell squarely within the ambit of offences defined under 2016 Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, Pakistan Penal Code, the 2003 Contempt of Court Ordinance and the 1976 Contempt of Court Act. Moreover, Noorani is guilty of some outlandish journalistic blunders. This includes calling Justice Ijaz Afzalon his cell phone with the intent to probe into a sub-judice matter and writing a whole investigative report in the newspaper (which later proved to be factually incorrect) on findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) a night before the same was to be submitted before the Supreme Court.Human history is witness to the fact that all progress; including intellectual advances and scientific innovations, come from the power of thoughtBut is beating an individual for expressing obnoxious and outrageous opinions justified? The answer is certainly in the negative. Vigilante justice based on self righteousness and subjective understanding of events is not only unlawful but also barbaric. In her book The Friends of Voltaire, English writer Beatrice Evelyn wrote; “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. As mentioned above, although I condemn the views of Noorani, nevertheless, I still resolutely defend his right to express his views. Under our Constitutional scheme, freedom of speech and expression is an inalienable fundamental right protected by Article 19 of the Constitution; the same cannot be arbitrarily revoked by state functionaries or any thought controlling squad. Only legislature is permitted to impose restrictions on this right, however, such restrictions must be reasonable and that also well defined by law in the interests of various matters. Let’s assume, Noorani had transgressed constitutional boundaries, abused his right to freedom of expression and allegedly committed criminal offences, the law of the land provides a legal procedure whereby such grievances can be adequately addressed.What’s interesting to note is that law enforcement agencies have failed to discover the identities and whereabouts of Noorani’s assailants. In a nutshell, Noorani was thrashed by the thought police, after which the thought police disappeared into thin air. Even the much admired ‘Safe City Project’ cameras failed to record any footage of this thought police. Beating Noorani was a disdainful act which reflected insecurity, intolerance and a lack of respect for the rule of law. No one can be forced to think in a particular way and no book of law in any part of the world provides justification for committing such wanton acts of oppression.Pakistan already ranks 139 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index 2017, thus, making it a dangerous place for journalists. Saleem Shehzad was brutally murdered, Hamid Mir survived an attempt on his life, recently Matiuallah Jan’s car was attacked with bricks, Umer Cheema was beaten and Zeenat Shehzadi was a missing person for two years. All incidents including Noorani’s episode have one thing in common, a thought police was involved. A thought police is a trademark of fascist authoritarian regimes; they have no relevance in democratic setups. As citizens, we must express our unhappiness with such cowardly attempts of instilling fear in journalists mind to curtail their right to freedom of expression. Ideas can never be killed with fear. The best way to tackle a narrative is to create a counter narrative. An idea can be suppressed for some time but in the long run it will always resurface. Suppression always brings false tranquillity. Truth eventually finds a way.Human history is witness to the fact that all progress; including intellectual advances and scientific innovations, come from the power of thought. Intellectual decadence creeps into societies which deny freedom of thought to its members. The presence of thought police in a society is a sign of undemocratic de-evolution and the erosion of constitutional liberties. Freedom of thought is not only an individual good but also a social good, as it lays basis of an accountable, responsive and just government. In democracy, the assumption is that all men are entitled to partake in the process of formulating decisions; the basic principle is that the people are both the governors and the governed. In order for the governed may form sagacious opinions, it is crucial for them to be cognisant with all the aspects of a question on which a decision has to be taken and allowed to freely express their opinion. This is the only way they can arrive at the ultimate truth. The writer is a lawyer based in LahorePublished in Daily Times, November 9th 2017.