Extremists Cultivated by Pakistan Disrupt Peace Over Blasphemy Acquittal

As Pakistanis and as champions of freedoms of various hues, we at New-Pakistan welcome the landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to finally acquit 47-year old Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death. However, we are deeply concerned about the environment created over the years that has allowed the misuse of blasphemy laws not only against religious minorities but against anyone who seeks to speak up against them. The protests against this verdict and the challenge to state authority led by the latest Frankenstein monster, the Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan, are worrying and troublesome.

As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated in a recent statement “while there is every reason to be relieved that Aasia Bibi has been acquitted after eight years of incarceration in the perpetual shadow of a death sentence, that Pakistan should have come this close to executing a woman for ‘blasphemy’ is a sobering thought.”

Further, “with at least 40 other people reportedly on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, both the state and civil society need to introspect. From a human rights perspective, the Supreme Court’s detailed judgment underlines several of the most problematic aspects of applying the blasphemy laws. The presumption of innocence is too easily buried by moral outrage, which invariably pits the vulnerable and underprivileged against those in majority. Moreover, the evidence of extrajudicial confession cannot be allowed to hold any legal worth.”

Pakistan has seen the continued rise of new radical groups that preach hatred and violence against anyone who disagrees with their point of view. The Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has street power but has gained in political strength during the recent elections.

HRCP expressed concern over, “the vicious reaction of all far-right religious-political groups who have taken to violent protests and openly threatened the lives of those associated with this case. While we welcome the government’s stance that the rule of law must be upheld, HRCP urges the state to make it perfectly clear that any party’s incitement to religious hatred – notably that of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan – will not be tolerated and is punishable under the law. Moreover, while it is critical that the judges and lawyers associated with this and similar cases be provided adequate security, this is a short-term solution to a longer, harder battle. Ultimately, the state must consider reforming the blasphemy laws in the interest of applying the law to all its citizens fairly, irrespective of their faith.’”

Over the years Pakistan has lost political leaders– like Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti – lawyers and human rights activists – Rashed Rahman – and countless others still lie in prison or have had to flee the country.

This needs to stop and we need to take a collective stand.

‘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.”