For years Pakistan’s establishment and its favoured media have run campaigns of intimidation against dissidents by describing them as ‘traitors’ or circulating other unsavory allegations against them. Pakistan’s spineless judiciary has never implemented the country’s libel and defamation laws effectively. In case of allegations backed by the establishment/army/ISI, the Pakistani Supreme Court has inverted the principle that accusers must prove their accusation to ‘the accused must prove their innocence.’
All that has been an insurmountable hurdle but the success of Jang/Geo Group’s Mir Shakil ur Rehman in forcing the shutting down of ARY News in the UK has opened a path for Pakistani dissidents to at least fight back.
ARY called Mir Shakil an Indian agents on its shows and the poor man could do nothing about it in Pakistan. He then realized that ARY also runs in UK and decided to approach the British Office of Communications –an arbiter of fairness in media – and also to demand reparations through British courts. He won.
ARY News decided to declare bankruptcy in U.K. and shut its operations there. Its programs are now shown in UK under the banner of ‘New Vision Limited.’ As The Guardian noted, the case put Pakistan’s media on notice.
Another web based news source, Eurasia Future, pulled down an article against Mir Shakil written by a Pakistani after being threatened with defamation action. It also had to run an apology.
Now it seems that former ambassador and author Husain Haqqani has decided to take the same road.
Called all sorts of names on Pakistani TV channels, Haqqani can do little in Pakistan to stop his defamation because the law in Pakistan is subject to the whims of the ‘patriotic’ establishment. But Haqqani could, like Mir Shakil, demand of all media outlets that also operate in UK (or elsewhere) to prove their allegations.
We know how difficult it is to prove allegations when the judges are not already in one’s pocket. That is why Haqqani has never been put on trial in Pakistan for any crime and even First Information Reports (FIRs) against him have only been registered within the last few months, seven years after his resignation as ambassador.
His threat already resulted in Global Village Space pulling down an article by well-known Haqqaniphobe, Capt (retd.) Syed Haider Raza Mehdi within hours of putting it up.
The strategy of suing over defamatory material under the laws of other countries will not stop habitual slanderers and abusers in Pakistan. But it will incur a cost for those in Pakistani media who want to be read or watched outside Pakistan too. It could also result in financial loss like the one incurred by ARY.
Pakistani media owners are in the business for making money. They are unlikely to want to lose the UK market. Unless, of course, the establishment that provokes them to abuse dissidents is willing to spend more money to subsidize its abuse.
In the last year there have been a number of analysts who have voiced their fear of a silent coup inside Pakistan: a coup in which the deep state has solidified its power, reduce the civilian government to a puppet and ensured there is no dissent from any segment of society.
At a recent seminar former senator and PPP leader PPP leader Farhatullah Babar spoke of what he called a “creeping coup” that “has taken place against the authority of the civilian government. The coup has taken place very quietly before the election. It is different from the martial law of the past, with two resulting outcomes: the civilian government exists, but has no authority; press freedom exists, but journalists have no freedom. All media has been controlled, whether it is social media, print media or electronic media. It is all happening very quietly. The restrictions from the security establishment are the greatest. There are also restrictions from non-state actors and your rulers. The media is being attacked on all fronts.”
The senator remarked that why is it that in Pakistan “the ‘Dawn leaks’ controversy” was viewed as “against national security.” Yet when “A British newspaper reported on a secret garrison meeting earlier this year, yet no one is speaking about it.” And “If I ask how a former army chief received 90 acres of land, a tweet will be published saying that I am trying to ruin civil-military ties.”
He further remarked, “Institutions that announce without any investigation that a journalist has undermined national security should be strongly protested against, and they should be told that if the journalist has done anything wrong, then due legal process should be adopted against them.”
Senator Babar called for “an international conference on the freedom of expression. Parliament should be asked to hold a public briefing on the matter, and those against whom allegations have been levelled should also attend the briefing. Political parties should, in addition to human rights agendas, present road maps for press freedom and protection of journalists.”
At a time when the media is facing censorship and political parties are under pressure, it is horrifying to hear that Pashtun students who protested in Islamabad against the attack in Wana on June 3 violent attack against unarmed activists of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) have been imprisoned on charges of sedition and are in Adiala jail.
According to data gathered by The Daily Times “15 of the 37 youngsters held at Adiala Jail on serious charges including sedition are enrolled in various graduate programmes at leading public-sector universities in the federal capital.” Most of these young people hail from Baluchistan and are enrolled either at Quaid e Azam or International Islamic University.
They include “highly accomplished individuals like Habib Kakar, who hails from Loralai district of Balochistan and is an alumunus of the prestigous Fulbright scholarship programme of the United States Education Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP). Others hailing from Loralai are Niamatullah and Hameedullah. The former is pursuing a PhD programme at the QAU’s Physics Department on a merit scholarship. Hameedullah is enrolled in an MPhil programme at the university’s Pakistan Studies Centre. At least five students hail from Zhob district of Balochistan. Of these, Aimal Mandokhail, Kamran Khan, Zulqarnain Mandokhel, and Mustafiz Khan are pursuing their undergraduate degrees in law at IIU. Roohullah and Kamil Khan are studying for a masters degree in sociology at the IIU. Among the incarcerated students are Akbar Khan and M Ishfaq Khan from South Waziristan. They are law students at IIU. Ishtiaq Wazir of Bannu recently graduated from the IIU’s International Relations Department; Raqeeb ullah of Pishin is enrolled in OAU’s Environmental Sciences graduate programme, and Ziaul Islam of Quetta is a a student of BSc (Economics) programme at IIU.”
According to the lawyers defending these students “Every Pakistani wants peace and prosperity in the country but every citizen has the right to criticise the policies of any state institution. There are dozens of institutions in the country facing criticism on a daily basis, will the police arrest everyone criticising any institution? Booking someone under section 124A (sedition) for chanting some slogans is strange. If someone challenges the state, say by demanding separation, then the police are well within their authority to book them for sedition, but there is no justification for using the section to curb criticism of ill-designed state policies.”