Freedom of expression – the voices that need to be heard are ignored and even silenced

killed for telling the truth

The following statement by Asian Human Rights Commission was released on 28th November 2013. The original is available at the AHRC website here: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-220-2013

With the successive governments the reality of freedom of expression grows thinner and thinner as the right guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan is further constricted. Apart from blatant interference by the government, freedom of expression is also being squeezed by non-state actors without any hindrance from the authorities.

While the Constitution of Pakistan permits freedom of expression, Article 19, is being used to control this fundamental right as it permits the state to impose “reasonable restrictions”. Article 19 states:

Every citizen shall have the freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with the foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or incitement to an offence.

Under so many restrictions through the Constitution the expectation of freedom of expression in the country can be judged. Freedom of speech, expression and thought are so much limited that people in their private meetings try not to talk openly as it may hurt security of the country and they might suffer the backlash.

Being an Islamic country it has very limited scope for fundamental rights including the freedom of thought. Education from the primary level teaches hatred against contemporary ideas, science, non-Islamic religious thoughts and history. The history taught in the schools teaches that Islamic warriors are glorious and exemplified as heroes, not thinkers, writers, philosophers and scientists.

Anything idea or concept that comes into conflict with the Islamic way of life is considered as un-Islamic or blasphemy. The Blasphemy law is the best tool in the hands of state and fundamentalists to suppress the freedom of thought of the society.

Pakistan has been declared, since its freedom from India, as a national security state which also contributes to restrict freedom. No media house or any person can raise questions about the actions of the armed forces. If any soldier dies in an accident he is referred to as Shaheed (martyred), otherwise such persons are referred to as anti-state. During the military regimes more laws were imposed against the freedom of expression and these laws have to be carried by the civilian governments as the legacy of armed forces. The famous media regulatory body, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established by the military regime of General Musharraf, this body has been used by the successive governments as the best way for curbing freedom of media houses.

The third factor is the role of fundamentalists and Jihadi groups (Muslim terrorists) who always dictate the society to follow what they think is Islamic and against the Islam. The successive governments always remained there to appease them. In actual sense the state and its policies patronize such acts to fundamentalists so that the issue of corruption should not become the agenda of the media and people must indulge in such debates of what is Islamic and what is not.

Sadly the voices that really need to be heard, those of the peasant farmers, poverty ridden people and labourers in the industrial areas are ignored and therefore silenced by the media whose sole purpose is to gain advertising revenue. It is no longer a secret that the media houses are ‘driven’ by the armed forces through their Inter Services Public Relations office. The judiciary, which has always been a poodle of the armed forces, has never really served the nation in its history. Both the media and the judiciary have been given the status of a sacred cow.

The media is extremely careful about what they say regarding the religious extremists as they can expect no protection or support from the authorities or judiciary. This was evident in the cases of the assassinations of the governor of Punjab, Mr. Taseer and the Federal Minister on Religious Minorities, Mr. Bhatti where the perpetrators of the violence have either gone unpunished or are being treated as heroes. The lawyers themselves, who are supposed to be protectors of the law, came out in support of the assassins, accusing the victims of blasphemy.

In the Constitution Ahmadis have been declared non-Muslim. This is in effect a contradiction as the constitution on the one hand declares the freedom to practice the religion of your choice but on the other places the Ahmadis in a position that leaves them open to attack by the fundamentalists. Any media house coming out in their support or criticising the fundamentalists are liable to the same degree of violence as the Ahmadis themselves.

Sadly, it is the people themselves that turn a blind eye to many of the restrictions on freedom expression stem. For example, the government’s decision to block 12 Web sites in 2006 was intended to satisfy Pakistani protesters who were outraged over cartoons of Muhammad (PBUH) that were circulating on the Internet. The controversial cartoons were originally published in a French newspaper but quickly spread online. In response, the government blocked a dozen Web sites that contained the cartoons, including the popular blog site, Blogspot.

The entertainment industry has seen even more violent restrictions from certain citizen groups. Some religious conservatives believe modern movies and music are immoral have been taking matters into their own hands. In June 2007 alone, there were more than 20 bomb attacks on movie and music businesses in Pakistan. The government keeps laws over the entertainment industry, too. Indian TV channels and movies are routinely banned.

YouTube was blocked by former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in 2012. Since then various segments of society have demanded the restoration of access to the website. He had imposed the ban after YouTube refused to remove a film considered blasphemous,The Innocence of the Muslims from its website. The government said it was considering lifting the ban after Eidul Fitr (in October this year) but the ban has still not been lifted as all stakeholders need to be taken into confidence. More than 1000 websites are banned in the country by the Telecommunication Authority on the pretext of obscenity and anti Islam material. (Pakistan Press Foundation – PPF)

The Al Jazeera website was blocked for several days after the publication of the report of one commission formed under the retired judges on the attack on the residence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s military zone. The commission’s report contained sensitive information regarding the negligence of armed forces when USA marines violated Pakistani airspace and took away bin Laden’s body after killing him. The report also placed the responsibility of allowing him to stay in the country.

On October 3, 2013, the Information Minister for Sindh province forwarded a summary to the Federal Ministry of Interior to impose a three-month blanket ban on instant messaging and VoIP services. The reason for the proposed ban was to combat terrorism and safeguard national security. The Sindh Information Minister said it was needed because the Sindh law enforcement agencies are unable to monitor VoIP services, which are increasingly being used by “criminal elements and terrorists”. The proposed ban is a disproportionate and overly broad measure. It will curb the fundamental rights of people in Sindh province and undermine the use of widespread communication platforms. Instant messaging and VoIP services, such as Skype, Viber, Tango and WhatsApp, are increasingly popular with Pakistani smartphone users looking for affordable means of communication. All of these services are now under threat of being suspended. The Sindh province authorities have not indicated how they will carry out this proposal: whether, for example, they will use filtering or blocking. (PPF)

The journalists killed during 2013
Nine journalists were killed during the year 2013 by law enforcement agencies after their abduction, bomb blasts and target killings.

55 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in the last ten years, and 36 of them were deliberately targeted and murdered because of their work, says THE Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in its latest report. The PPF say, for every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence. Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity in Pakistan. This is seriously hampering press freedom in the country.

The journalists killed in the course of their work:

Salik Jaffery, (22), of Geo News was killed November 23 in a bomb blast at Incholi, Karachi. He was associate producer of Geo News.

Mr Razzak, the Balochistan-based journalist had been missing since 24 March. He was tortured to death. His body was found in Karachi, Sindh province in the month of August. It is said that when he was coming out from office the persons from state intelligence agencies arrested him and whisked away. It took Mr Razzak’s family 24 hours to identify him because only his arms and legs were sufficiently intact to enable identification. He was the sub-editor of a Mastung-based publication from the province of Balochistan.

The BBC reported that Mirza Iqbal Hussain, a photographer for News Network International, a Pakistani independent news agency, died in a hospital from injuries on January 10,he sustained in a bomb blast that occurred 10 minutes after an initial explosion near a billiards hall in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, according to NNI editor Tariq Nadeem and local news reports. The twin blasts killed dozens, including police, emergency workers, and journalists who rushed to the scene of the first explosion, according to news reports. The billiards hall is in a predominantly Shia area of Quetta. The bombings were part of a series of bomb attacks reported across Pakistan that day, news reports said.

Mr. Saif ur Rehman, a senior reporter for Samaa TV, died in a hospital from injuries he sustained in a bomb blast that occurred 10 minutes after an initial explosion near a billiards hall in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, on January 10. The twin blasts killed dozens, including police, emergency workers, and journalists who rushed to the scene of the first explosion, according to news reports. The billiards hall is in a predominantly Shia area of Quetta. The bombings were part of a series of bomb attacks reported across Pakistan that day, news reports said.

Mr. Imran Shaikh, 35, a senior cameraman for Samaa TV, was killed on January 10, in a bomb blast that occurred 10 minutes after an initial explosion near a billiards hall in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province. Shaikh’s colleague, Saif ur Rehman, a senior reporter for Samaa TV, was also severely injured in the blast and died a few hours later in a hospital.

On March 1,Mehmood Jan Afridi of The Daily Intekhab was killed by armed men. Afridi, (48), was heading to a local press club from his home in the city of Kalat, Balocdhistan province. Afridi had worked for the Urdu-language print and online The Daily Intekhab for almost 20 years, and was the head of the Kalat Press Club, according to Anwar Sajidi, executive editor of the paper, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

On February 27, Mumtaz, 48, was fired upon by unidentified men in a car with tinted windows as he drove to his home in Miran Shah, in the main city of North Waziristan. Mumtaz, a journalist for more than 20 years, had worked for Geo News television and the daily News International in both English and Urdu, news reports said. He had been elected president of the regional press club shortly before his death, news reports said. His most recent print stories included coverage of the general violence in North Waziristan and a report on the controversial issue of a local polio vaccination program. Health workers administering polio vaccines were killed in December by militants who called the program a cover for intelligence gathering activities.

Ayub Khattak, Karak Times. October 11, 2013, in Karak District, Pakistan – Khattak, a reporter for the Karak Times in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s southern Karak district, was shot dead outside his home, according to news reports and the Freedom Network, a Pakistani press freedom watchdog organization. Eyewitness accounts said two unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle waited outside Khattak’s home, fired at him when he appeared, and then fled the scene, the reports said.

Khattak’s colleagues said he had recently published a story on the sale of illegal drugs and a local gang of drug peddlers, according to news reports. Khattak had worked as a journalist since 2004, and had received threats in the past after his reports exposed criminal elements in the region.

Khattak’s family said they believed Khattak had been targeted in relation to his work. The journalist’s son filed a First Information Report with the police, in which he named two individuals as drug dealers, claiming they were responsible for his father’s murder, according to the Freedom Network.

The murder came only days after Minister of Information Pervaiz Rasheed expressed his support for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate attacks against journalists as part of the implementation of the larger U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity at a meeting in Islamabad on October

Aslam Durrani, Daily Pakistan. April 16, 2013, in Peshawar. Durrani, (55), news editor of the Urdu-language Daily Pakistan, was killed in a suicide bomb attack during a political rally for the Awami National Party in the northwestern provincial capital of Peshawar, according to news reports. His death was confirmed to CPJ by a staff member at the Lahore offices of the paper by phone. News reports also identified him as Tariq Aslam Durrani.

The news accounts reported that more than 20 others were killed in the attack, which occurred in the densely populated neighborhood of Yakatoot. The explosion occurred just after the arrival of Awami National Party leaders, The Associated Press reported. Senior police official Shafqat Malik told AFP that the attack was a suicide bombing.

Two other journalists were injured: Ehtesham Khan, a correspondent for Express TV, and Azhar Ali Shah, a reporter for Daily Pakistan, both of whom were taken to a local hospital for treatment.

The militant group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, which came less than two weeks before national elections, according to local reports. The group’s spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told local news media that the target of the attack was Haroon Bilour, a lawyer running for a parliamentary seat that had been held by his father, Bashir Bilour, who was assassinated last year by the Taliban, the reports said. Haroon Bilour survived the attack.

Durrani was survived by his wife and four sons.

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