The story of freedom of speech and press in the Ottoman Empire is intriguing.
Let's briefly revisit the story, focusing on the longest-reigning sultan who has been much publicised in Bangladesh recently thanks to a Turkish drama serial—Sultan Suleiman--which was dubbed into Bangla and broadcast by a private television channel.
Suleiman was a strong opponent of the use of the printing press in his empire, in continuation of the rule introduced by his predecessors to muzzle freedom of speech and press.
The Ottomans stood against the wave created in Europe by the invention of the printing press, which spread quickly from Gutenberg's first press in Mainz of Germany in 1450 to throughout Europe by 1500.
But Suleiman, who reigned the empire from 1520 to until his death in 1566, was adamant to uphold the rule banning the use of printing press for publication of books and other stuff.
The rule was made stringent in 1515 by his predecessor Sultan Selim, condemning users of printing press - invented in Germany - for printing books in Turkish or Arabic, to death penalty.
The ban, accompanied by death penalty, remained in force for the next 270 years. After 1784 the situation started improving, though at a very slow pace, and the technology of printing could finally filter to the rest of the Middle East.
The first book, a collection of fatwas relating to the Russo-Persian, was published in Iran in 1817, 362 years after the invention of the printing press.
In contrast, countries in Europe extensively used the printing press by the end of the 15th century to spread ideas through books, newspapers and other stuff. And it was recognised as a powerful engine of the reformation and the making of Europe. This contributed to the healthy growth of freedom of speech and press. And the ultimate outcome was economic development of the countries and people.
The Ottoman's opposition to the printing press had the obvious consequences for literacy, education and economic success, writes Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their masterpiece "Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty."
In 1800, probably only two to three percent of the citizens of the Ottoman Empire were literate, compared with 60 percent of adult males and 40 percent of adult females in England.
In the Netherlands and Germany, literacy rates were even higher. The Ottoman lands lagged far behind the European countries with the lowest educational attainment in this period.
Why was the Ottoman Empire hell bent against the printing press?
"Given the highly absolutist and extractive Ottoman institutions, the sultan's hostility to the printing press is easy to understand.
"Books spread ideas and make the population much harder to control. Some of these ideas may be valuable new ways to increase economic growth, but others may be subversive and challenge the existing political and social status quo," Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson write.
The censorship-based regime was a unique characteristic of the 19th century Ottoman Empire and censorship brought nothing but people's deprivation from the light of education. People had less fundamental rights like freedom of speech and free press. Some countries once under the Ottoman empire are still struggling for a healthy democracy with limited freedom of speech and press.
Take modern day Turkey, for example, a country that was formed in the 1920s following a defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the first world war, which resulted in its collapse. The empire centered in present-day Turkey.
Turkey has ranked at the bottom of this year's World Press Freedom Index—153 out of 180 countries -- surveyed by Reporters Without Border assessing the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations have in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to safeguard this freedom.
"Even if Turkey is no longer the world's biggest jailer of journalists, the risk of imprisonment and the fear of being subjected to judicial control or stripped of one's passport is ever-present," says the press freedom index. "The government controls 90% of the national media by means of regulators."
For his authoritarian rule, Turkish leader Erdogan has already been called the "Sultan Erdogan."
Egypt, a former province under Ottoman Empire, also looks gloomy in the press freedom index ranking at 166.
The press freedom situation is becoming more and more alarming in Egypt, with frequent waves of raids and arrests. Egypt is now one of the world's biggest jailers of journalists, with some spending years in detention without being charged or tried, and others being sentenced to long jail terms or even life imprisonment in iniquitous mass trials, says the press freedom index.
Sweden offers an inspiring story of freedom of speech and press.
Like others in Europe, Sweden embraced the invention of the printing press. In 1483, the first book, a collection of Latin-language fables, was published in Sweden, ushering in a new era of freedom of speech and press.
But its journey was not smooth. Publications started facing censorship by the then kings.
Sweden's first real censorship laws were introduced under the rule of King Charles XI. Two copies of every book printed in the kingdom were to be sent to the king's office, where books with content that was considered offensive or harmful could be confiscated and fined. Starting in 1662, books were even censored before printing.
In 1765 the Swedish government initiated a comprehensive revision of the constitution. The priest Anders Chydenius was a driving force and author behind one of the three pleas for freedom of the press submitted to parliament.
Next year, in 1766, Sweden became the first country in the world to have freedom of the press written into the constitution. The Swedish Freedom of the Press Act also broke ground for the principle of public access to information, which made it legal to publish and read public documents. The principle of public access is still a cornerstone of the Swedish Constitution, says a Swedish official website.
Now the principle of freedom of information means that the general public and the mass media have access to official records, which means that they have the opportunity to scrutinise the activities of government on all levels – national, regional and local. Transparency reduces the risk of power being abused.
Civil servants and others who work for the government are also free to inform the media or outsiders. However, certain documents can be kept secret – for example if they involve matters of national security, according to the official website.
On the press freedom index this year Sweden ranked third, and it has done well over the years. The country's image looks bright on other indices such as corruption perception, rule of law and democracy. It is considered one of the best places on the earth to live.
Despite the constitutional guarantee for freedom of press and some good laws such as right to information and whistle blowers' protection law, Bangladesh's standing in the press freedom index portrays a weak image of the country. It ranked 152 on this year's index – little better than Turkey.
It slipped one notch from last year's rank, which is alarming. The poor performance indicates lack of transparency in the functions of the administration. Secrecy rules supreme. Media and people have no effective right to information like Sweden and other countries that look strong on the press freedom index.
The culture of secrecy has obvious consequences for other global indices such as corruption perception, rule of law and democracy. Bangladesh always comes out weak on these global indices that measure the quality of governance and standard of people's lives.