In a remarkable decision today Lahore High Court ordered all TV channels and newspapers not to publish or broadcast any Altaf Hussain speeches, statements, activities, or even his photograph! This ban is remarkable because the MQM leader still has not been convicted of any crime. He may be accused of many things, and may be facing many cases…but he is not convicted of anything, so on what grounds is he banned? Compare this with the same Court’s treatment of another controversial figure the accused terrorist mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi who they ordered released due to ‘lack of evidence’ and is free to give speeches and show his face anywhere in Pakistan. Okay, okay, Lakhvi is a ‘good terrorist’. Then let us ask why it is banned to broadcast statements by Altaf Hussain but not TTP spokesman? Why is Ahmed Ludhianvi still allowed to be broadcast? The list can go on and on but the answer remains the same: There is a double standard being applied to one man.
It is also worth noting that once again the Courts have resorted to ‘banning’ something that is deemed too embarrassing or upsetting. Like YouTube and Facebook and Bollywood films termed as ‘anti-Pakistan’, the banning is really just a matter of sending a message and not really blocking one. It is impossible in the era of global internet to truly stop access to any information. No, this is the Court sending a clear message that even though he has not been tried and convicted on any count, Altaf Hussain has been declared unacceptable by certain powerful quarters. This is understood by all who see the many news reports. Actually it is wrong to say that Altaf was not tried and convicted because he was, only it was a trial and conviction by media with the sentence given by a Court. Who was the judge and jury though is the important question that will remain unanswered, but it is undeniable that the objective is to ‘control the narrative’ rather than punish any crime.
LHC’s order will serve as a means for pressurizing MQM supporters and even those who do not support MQM but do support basic rule of law. It has a chilling effect that spreads much further than simply preventing TV channels from broadcasting his statement. Will blogs be targeted for posting photos? What about social media? Where does it end? For those who care about such things, we should be very aware that we have entered a new phase where trials and convictions are no longer considered necessary, and even showing a person’s photograph can land one in hot water. We have criminalised not only acts, but the being even too far out of sync with the official narrative. And what does that say about the next time extremists and militant sympathisers are broadcast…?