‘Celebrating Independence Day Without People’s Freedom’

Pakistan celebrates its 72nd Independence Day today. The dream of our founding father Quad e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and other leaders who supported him and his vision was that of a progressive, economically prosperous Pakistan at peace with its neighbors and the world. Unfortunately seven decades later we are yet to fulfil the Quaid’s dream!

With a new government taking over power on the eve of Independence Day, we at New Pakistan thought it would be useful to put forth views put forth in leading Editorials and Opinion pieces on why we are in the mess we are today and what we need to do in order to move forward.

The Dawn Editorial states “Democratic rule — true democratic rule — is not a gift that the country must wait to receive when deemed worthy of it; democratic rule is an inalienable right of each and every citizen of Pakistan.” Referring to the “deep political divisions and institutional strife” in Pakistan at the end of the latest elections, the editorial points to the consistent “institutional encroaching on the terrain of other institutions.” Further, “While institutions need vigorous oversight and checks and balances, the mechanisms must come from within the democratic system. A controlled democracy wherein other institutions circumscribe the authority and writ of an elected government and parliament, and impose their own policy prescriptions and priorities, is a recipe for enduring conflict.”

The Nation Editorial states that Pakistanis should stop looking for Messiahs in politics and seek to resolve their problems themselves: “let us get out of the messiah thinking pattern which pushes us to believe that a single entity can solve problems. This is precisely why we disrespect people we elect. Let us all pledge to work together and respect each other.” Referring to the multiple challenges facing Pakistan the editorial asks Pakistanis to “respect those around us and particularly those we elect in our public offices” and understand that “utmost responsibility lies on us to change as people because if the basic structure of the society is the same, no amount of policies can change the outcome.”

The News Editorial focuses on the rise of religious bigotry, the denial of full rights to Pakistan’s minorities and the need to achieve the dream of Pakistan: “to bring a peaceful and prosperous life for the Muslims of South Asia.” As Editorial states, “The rise of religious bigotry has not been confined to terrorist groups. Religiously inspired mob violence continues to serve as a reminder that we have not learnt to deal with the aftereffects of Partition. Dominant religious groups continue to peddle the narrative that they are under threat.” Further, “One of the many glaring challenges we have faced is our inability to accord the same rights and respect to our minority communities. To change this, Pakistan needs to change much within its legal, political and social frameworks.”

Articles Pakistan Media was forced not to Run – VI

New Pakistan is continuing its series of publishing those articles that Pakistan’s mainstream media was forced not to publish.
 
Repression of the Pakistani media continues unabated in Naya Pakistan! Once again mainstream media has refused to publish an article by former Senator Afrasiab Khattak.
 
Sen Khattak’s son Khushal Khattak posted this on twitter today “The Nation did not publish my father @a_siab’s article today for “Namalum Reasons”. Censorship continues. Shame on all those who remain silent.”
 
Here is the first paragraph from Afrasiab Khattak’s article: “The GE 2018, called the dirtiest and most controversial elections by most of the political parties, human rights organizations and international media, seems to be heralding the collapse of the post-Zia’s martial law ‘republic’ in Pakistan. The creeping coup spread over last four years has eaten into the vitals of the fragile democratic system.”
 
The rest of the article is below

Naya Pakistan, Same Freedom of Expression Repression

As we at New Pakistan have often stated, freedom of expression and of the media are critical for Pakistan’s future. Another sign that Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan is really worse than Purana Pakistan was seen on August 1 when the Lahore office of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) was sealed by the Lahore Development authority on the flimsy grounds that it was “commercial activity” within a “residential area.”

SAFMA’s Secretary General Imtiaz Alam stated that since the organization is a non-profit its activities “don’t fall in the definition of commercialization.” SAFTA is a subsidiary of SAARC and is a legally certified organization.

The LDA administration argued that “it took the action after many people of the area approached the Lahore High Court several years ago, requesting it to intervene into the matter by directing the government to stop commercial activities in the residential area.”

In an editorial Dawn pointed out that this action “comes at a time when different media outlets, journalists and local and international rights groups are complaining of increasing pressure on the media and restrictions on free speech in Pakistan.”

The editorial noted that “It is no secret that a few SAFMA officials have been vocal in raising their concerns over this growing pressure on major media outlets to toe a particular line and they have questioned the fairness of the July elections.”

The editorial asked the question: “We must ask to what extent can running a library and a school for teaching journalists the media code of ethics be classified as a commercial activity. Especially when the LDA has not taken action against those in other residential areas of the city who are seen as ‘causing disturbance to the people’ living there. The LDA should have come up with a better explanation for its sudden action as the case, according to SAFMA officials, is still with the Lahore High Court pending a final decision.”

The World Notices Pakistan’s Election Engineering: Imran Khan’s ‘Victory’ Lacks Credibility

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan’s third successive elections since 2008 are also being viewed as Pakistan’s dirtiest ever with both the European Union’s Observation Mission and the United States Department of State criticizing the entire process.
According to the EU Mission, Pakistan’s 2018 elections were marred by “allegations of interference” by the military, “curtailment on freedom of expression,” “systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party,” “emergence of extremist parties” in politics, and that “security personnel” were carrying on their own “parallel tabulation” during the entire electoral process.
The United States Department of State too expressed concern about the violent electoral process and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s “concerns about flaws in the pre-voting electoral process, as expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. These included constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association during the campaign period that were at odds with Pakistani authorities’ stated goal of a fully fair and transparent election.”
According to the EU Election Observation Mission Report, the elections “took place against a background of allegations of interference in the electoral process by the military-led establishment and the role of the judiciary as a political actor. Media outlets and journalists suffer from severe restrictions and curtailment on freedom of expression, which has resulted in extraordinary levels of self-censorship.”
 
Further, “A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment. Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates. The electorally sensitive timing, as well as the content of decisions of courts investigating or adjudicating on matters related to high-profile Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) candidates, were perceived by several stakeholders as an indication of the politicisation of the judiciary. These cases reshaped the political environment ahead of the elections. Of further concern was the emergence of extremist parties with affiliations either to terrorist groups, or individuals linked to organisations that have used, incited or advocated violence.”
 
Furthermore, “EU observers noted the presence of security personnel inside and outside the polling stations in the polling stations observed. At times, they checked voter ID cards and directed voters to the right queue. During counting, they recorded and transmitted the results, giving the impression of an ongoing parallel tabulation.” The detailed report of the EU Mission can be read here.
The U.S. State Department echoed the conclusions of the European Union Election Observation Mission that “while there were positive changes to the legal framework for elections in Pakistan, these were overshadowed by restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities.”
 
The short statement reaffirmed the US desire to “encourage a broadening of opportunities for political participation for all Pakistanis, and for the further strengthening of legitimate, democratic institutions” and also expressed “deep reservations over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in the elections.”

 

Harsh Facts about Curbs on Freedom of Expression in Pakistan

Pakistan ranks high on the list of countries where journalists are killed, activists kidnapped and tortured and freedom of speech censored. Pakistan’s leading human rights organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) just released its fact-finding report on the curbs on freedom of expression inside Pakistan.
 
The report looked at the following issues:
 
“Interviews carried out independently by HRCP with distributors in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh corroborate allegations by Dawn that disruptions and intermittent closures in commercial establishments and residential areas associated with the military have had a serious impact on business. Following the publication of an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 12 May 2018, sales agents allege that the distribution of Dawn has been disrupted daily in at least 20 targeted cities and towns – specifically in cantonment areas and army offices and schools. Hawkers report being subjected to continual harassment, threats and physical coercion by military personnel while attempting to deliver copies of Dawn to regular subscribers. At least two distributors confirm that they were asked to provide information on their subscribers.
This has been accompanied by the withdrawal or suspension of advertisements: Dawn reports that, since October 2016, it has suffered a complete ban on advertising from organizations falling under the domain of the ISPR, including DHA and other commercial establishments.”
 
“HRCP has documented at least three instances in which cable operators in Punjab and GB say they were compelled to take certain channels off air. In each case, they received a telephone call from persons identifying themselves as state or intelligence agency officials, warning them to ‘remove’ Geo TV from the list of channels being transmitted or to move it to the very end, thereby making it less accessible. All respondents say they had no choice but to comply for fear their business would be closed down or attacked. As far as the television channel management is concerned, the prevailing uncertainty surrounding their ability to broadcast means they stand to lose long-term advertising contracts. At least two respondents confirmed that this has affected their financial stability and ability to pay salaries on time. The general perception among smaller TV channels is that, if a media house as prominent as Geo TV can be targeted in the form of disruptions to transmission – with obvious implications for how this affects their business and compels them to engage in what one respondent termed ‘cost reduction exercises’ – then they, too, have little choice but to fall in line.”
 
“The systematic curtailment of freedom of expression in the form of press advice, intimidation and harassment, reportedly by state or intelligence agencies, has left many journalists and their management too vulnerable to resist. Reprisals have taken ominous forms, including abduction and assault in several instances.”
 
“Verbal press advice, received either on the telephone or during a visit, usually pertains to what should not be published or broadcast. HRCP’s interviews reveal that the most commonly tabooed subjects are: missing persons, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Baloch separatists and rights activists such as Mama Qadeer, the Panama trial and NAB references, the disqualification and arrest of Nawaz Sharif, references to any questionable decisions by the judiciary, allegations of judicial overreach and questions about the armed forces. At least two respondents report having been warned that news transmissions must use the words ‘criminal’ or ‘convicted’ – rather than ‘former Prime Minister’ – to identify Nawaz Sharif. Other topics unpopular with the establishment, at least three respondents have claimed, include criticism of the PTI. Another reportedly common piece of press advice to the broadcast media is that the channel should give greater coverage to PTI rallies and only minimal coverage to other parties’ events. Other issues raised over what one respondent termed ‘a friendly cup of tea’ – the standard euphemism applied to summons from state agencies – include questions pertaining to coverage of national security issues, editorial policies and even reporters’ sources.
Respondents in both the print and broadcast media say that the advice may be issued by civil bureaucrats, the office of the DG Press and Information or directly by the ISPR, often relayed through the management. At least four television or radio journalists report that, in addition to communicating directly with ‘errant’ journalists, state or intelligence agencies tend to approach channel or newspaper owners directly, threatening their channel/publication or parent business with NAB or FIA cases or suspension of advertisements unless they agree to abide by certain conditions. Many print and broadcast journalists say that a common consequence of ‘disobeying’ instructions is vicious character assassinations through anonymous social media accounts and social networking platforms that go so far as to incite violence against mediapersons – and in the case of women, rape threats. In at least two cases, respondents in the print media say they were called in for questioning by state or intelligence agencies and interrogated about international funding and contact with separatists. One senior anchorperson claims that ‘technical faults’ are often cited by the management as a reason for not broadcasting a program on ‘sensitive’ subjects. One of the biggest problems, he says, is that anchors are not taken into confidence by the management as to what they can or cannot say on air. He also alleges that the management sends the material they have edited out of his programs to the military establishment to remain in the latter’s ‘good books’. This, he says, simply makes him more vulnerable. He sees this as a double game: the establishment, too, might show an anchor a recording of material the management has edited out as ‘evidence’ of the latter’s ‘insincerity’, creating divisions between employees and management. At least seven editors and reporters in GB have testified to receiving press advice and being threatened with dire consequences – including threats of arrest, violence or death – if they do not comply. Most say they are warned against giving coverage to nationalists and reporting negatively about state institutions and government departments. In one extreme case, an editor and publisher who did not comply, despite being offered bribes and his life threatened five times, was accused of being on the payroll of foreign spy agencies. A case was registered against him under the Terrorism Act and he was arrested. He remains in prison. Overall, continuing intimidation and the perceived need to self-censor has severely hampered objective journalism. It has also taken a toll on members of staff, some of whom have refused to work or left. This has left particularly the newspapers beleaguered, with threats also emanating from religious radicals, separatists and officials of nationalist or political parties if news on their activities is not published.”
 
“Several respondents specified that the quid pro quo for strictly following directions is the promise of access to events and personalities. However, senior representatives of the establishment, they claim, often offer bribes of foreign travel, allotment of plots and other privileges, professional advancement, cash bribes, promises of advertisement revenue and government jobs.”
 
“At least five respondents in Lahore and one in Islamabad felt that journalists’ trade unions were too splintered to speak with one voice against such instances of intimidation and harassment. Many had been either compromised or were too afraid to take a strong stand, even going so far, said one respondent, as to ‘blame the victim’.”
“Press advice to social media users, especially those critical of state policies, has also increased. Any criticism of the policies of the military or discussions of extremist violence attracts the most press advice. Respondents testified to receiving advice from the ISPR and from civil agencies such as the FIA, which, they allege, has begun to call social media users for ‘hearings’ relating to their online activity, albeit with no supporting official orders. It is not uncommon to receive direct requests to delete specific tweets and, in one respondent’s case, to be asked to report ‘objectionable’ tweets. In January 2018, one respondent escaped an abduction attempt during which his travel documents, laptop and phone were taken. He went into exile soon after. Subsequently, he set up a website ‘Safe Newsrooms’ to enable whistle-blowers to unmask censorship, but the website was blocked soon after. Another respondent says she was detained for one night in Lahore a day before the PTM rally in April 2018. She alleges that she was hit with the butt of a gun and pushed so that her head hit the wall. She was called a traitor and then put in solitary confinement overnight at the Counter Terrorism Department headquarters in Lahore. Subsequently, her computer was attacked with malware through a video link sent to her three days before the PTM rally in Karachi in May 2018 and her internet data blocked for a month during the same period.”
 
The HRCP issued a list of recommendations addressed to the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan and all state institutions to:
“- Take due notice of the complaints it has presented
– Take appropriate steps to prohibit and prevent unauthorized, illegal and unlawful interference with freedom of expression in the country
– Protect the right of television channel and news publication owners to function with dignity and in peace.
– There should be no interference in the sale and distribution of any newspaper, nor should any TV channels be deliberately displaced.
– The system of issuing ‘press advice’ or press-advice-like ‘instructions’ on the part of state agencies must cease immediately.
– All complaints of this nature should be redressed promptly.
– Complete and effective information commissions are set up in each province to implement the state’s obligations under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.”