Pakistan has long ranked high on countries that muzzle freedom of speech but under Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country has witnessed unheard of levels of suppression of any voice that is contrary to the government’s narrative, especially anything said by the opposition.
At the recent Asma Jahangir Conference held in Lahore, there was an attempt to prevent former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from addressing the participants when as soon as he started his speech internet services at the venue were suspended.
In his speech Nawaz Sharif “called for immediately devising a national agenda to pull Pakistan out of its current crises and take it on the path of democracy, reiterating the need to “put our house in order”. The former prime minister once again hit out at the military establishment and criticised interference in judicial and government affairs that he claimed had led to Pakistan’s “downfall”. “The most dangerous aspect is the deepening disappointment and severe helplessness [among the people],” he said. “History is witness that when nations descend into the quagmire of despair, questions start to be raised about that nation’s survival.” He said the 220 million people of Pakistan were demanding answers to some fundamental questions and until they received those, the country’s state of affairs would not improve.”
In the conclusion of his speech Nawaz Sharif said “My suggestion is that [based on] all the recommendations given in this conference, an immediate strategy be formed and everyone sit together, so that the path of practical struggle can be adopted. It is very important. We have been very late and cannot afford more delay. This work should be done today. Taking action now, Nawaz said, “can help pull the country out of the chasm it has fallen into and put it on the path of its destination again”. “If this is not done, then lifting it again will become impossible and history will not forgive us.”
Even before the event PTI ministers had tweeted complaining about the fact that the organizers had invited Nawaz Sharif.
In a statement issued after the event, the organisers of the conference “regretted what they termed “the state’s highhandedness” for allegedly blocking Nawaz’s speech. The organisers of Asma Jahangir Conference 2021, which include the Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan Bar Council, and the AGHS, “strongly condemn this act and consider it an onslaught on the freedom of expression.”