Asma Jahangir’s cause lives on

On October 13-14, a two-day conference was held to pay tribute to Pakistan’s world renowned human rights activist, Asma Jahangir. The conference centered on the theme ‘Justice for Empowerment’ and was attended by human rights and civil society activists, political leaders and lawyers from around the world. Speakers included Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Awami National Party leader Afrasiab Khattak, federal minister for human rights Dr Shireen Mazari, former speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and former secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Ahsan Bhoon SC Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza.


Ambassadors from various countries also attended the conference, including HE Jean Francois Cautain (head of the European Union Delegation), HE Koebler (Germany), HE Ingrid Johansonn (Sweden), HE Margaret Adamson (Australia) and HE Ajay Bisaria (India). Among international guests who travelled to attend the conference were the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG (former justice of the High Court of Australia), Kirsty Brimelow QC (chair of the Human Rights Bar Committee, England and Wales), HE Annika Ben David (Sweden’s Ambassador at Large for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law), Kamla Bhasin (Indian poet and activist) and Dr Nimalka Fernando (attorney and women’s rights activist, Sri Lanka).


The two-day conference had nine different sessions where speakers shared ideas. The participants of the First Asma Jahangir Conference on Saturday resolved that the imposition of censorship in the name of national interests must end as it is detrimental to the fundamental rights.


According to a statement released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “The conference resolved that the state must protect citizens’ fundamental rights, lift the ban on non-government organizations and cease the harassment of human rights defenders. All political parties must have a new charter of democracy to set ground rules for protecting the democratic process – and the major political parties must take the lead in doing so. Judicial overreach must be checked, since it impinges on the constitutional role of other state institutions. The Supreme Court must consider formulating parameters for taking suo moto notice. Freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and undeclared censorship of the print and electronic media must cease. Parliament must approve a new bill for the independence of PEMRA according to the recommendations of the Media Commission report.”


According to a news report: “The participants expanded their great gratitude to the vision and legacy of Jahangir while discussing the rule and law situation in the country. They devised strategies for the promotion of justice by strengthening the rule of law and democracy, protection of fundamental rights, ensuring the independence of judiciary and mainstreaming gender-related issues.”


According to former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA Rahman “the whole nation has become silent with the silence of Jahangir. While throwing light on her life, he admitted that she had great courage which could not be measured. “She was a voice of every voiceless. She was committed to defending democracy and rule of the law in the country.”


Awami National Party (ANP) leader Bushra Gohar, gave a speech during “Strengthening Democracy and Rule of Law” session, and “said that true democracy could not prevail in the country since the military had intervened throughout history either directly or indirectly. While criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, she said that the situation has become worst for democracy in the country. “Chief justice and Imran Khan have become sandbags and there is a need to know who is behind them,” she added.”


Panelists from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and the United States (US) also “discussed cybercrime awareness, suggesting the need of improvement in the current data protection laws. Furthermore, the panelists also concluded that a distinction should be drawn between cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. “Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression for Youth and Students” session concluded that there is a dire need to give importance to the autonomous academic freedom.”


Speakers at the “Freedom of Expression and Shrinking Spaces for Dissent” session “discussed the oppression and forced disappearances of journalists in Pakistan and around the world. The panel also concluded to empower Article 19 in its true letter and spirit. The “Justice for Empowerment” session included a panel discussion on the outdated and discriminatory labour laws and its effects on the working women.”


According to HRCP: “Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalize forced disappearances. The government must prevent the use of torture by adopting the 2014 bill passed by the Senate. The conference resolved that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must prosecute the 153 identified officials responsible for enforced disappearances. The conference also resolved that there was a disproportionately large population of under-trial prisoners, which represented a deep flaw in the justice system.”


Further, “Pakistan must revise the education syllabus to remove portions that discriminate against religious minorities. The state’s appeasement of religious fundamentalism must end and the Christian minority must be protected in the face of new threats. Laws that discriminate against minorities must be abolished.”


And, “the law on sexual harassment against women in the workplace is not being implemented: there are hardly any cases under this act before the ombudspersons despite numerous women reporting sexual harassment. The law should be refined to introduce the crime of “sextortion” and sexual bribery as introduced in Bangladesh. On transgender rights, the conference resolved that the Transgender Persons Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the transgender community be established. Broad-based measures must be taken by the government, media, civil society, essential service providers and the education sector to increase awareness of transgender persons and their rights across society.”


Rolling back 18th Amendment will hurt Naya Pakistan

The 18th Amendment to the Pakistani constitution passed in 2010 was supported by all major political parties. In addition to amending Article 6 of the Constitution, the Amendment provided for ‘Right to fair trial,’ ‘Freedom of association,’ ‘Right to information,’ and increased the financial share of the provinces. There has been a concerted effort since earlier this year by the deep state and its allies to rollback certain elements of this amendment.


On October 9th, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed “grave concern at efforts to roll back the 18th constitutional amendment, evidenced by remarks made reportedly by state institution representatives as well as elected members of the National Assembly.’ The Council said it condemned any such efforts, adding that ‘the 18th Amendment is integral to Pakistan’s identity as a federation and a democracy. Equally worrying is the increasingly thin veneer of civilian government in the country, which seems to indicate that the “creeping coup” has not lost any significance since the elections.’”


The HRCP also gravely noted “the continuing judicialization of politics in Pakistan. We should not look to judicial activism to address political controversies and public policy questions. The democratic system must be allowed to take its course.”


Further, “‘The unabated curbs on press freedom in Pakistan are cause for serious concern. Journalists, media house owners and distributors remain under pressure in the form of intimidation, harassment, abductions and violence. Under no circumstances can allegations of treason against journalists who are guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs be allowed to become a convenient tool to suppress freedom of expression and dissent. HRCP also demands that the state revisit the situation of political prisoners in Gilgit-Baltistan promptly and cease using the Fourth Schedule to stifle dissent.”


Finally, HRCP stated: “‘The state’s duty to protect people’s fundamental right to life also means it must address the malnutrition-related deaths of at least 50 children in Thar in September alone, the alarming frequency of mining accidents – primarily in Balochistan – and the rising number of suicides among women in Gilgit-Baltistan. Equally, while upholding economic and social justice is an essential duty of the state, it is critical to acknowledge and enable other actors that are attempting to alleviate poverty and protect human rights. The expulsion of 18 international aid groups from the country and subsequent vilification campaign against them in the electronic media serves Pakistan ill, given that most of these allegations are baseless and absurd. In protecting human rights and upholding social justice, the state needs all the allies it can get.”

Naya Pakistan dislikes Press Freedom!

Like everything else in Naya Pakistan, even the censorship on press and lack of media freedom are worse than in Purana Pakistan. Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontiers and International Press Institute have all brought out reports on censorship, threats to press freedom and violence against journalists. On October 9, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has announced a Protest Day against the widespread censorship of the electronic and print media in the country.


According to an Editorial in The Friday Times ‘Truth will out’ at the core of today’s Pakistani media lies a tussle between “old media and a new media. The old media is represented by a dying breed of owner editors who still cling to traditional notions of editorial independence, and a pack of journalists who continue speaking truth to power. The new media is represented by a rising galaxy of channel owners, anchors, hosts and reporters with political and economic interests to leverage unconscionably. In other words, “press freedom” means two opposite things to each group of stakeholders.”


According to TFT, “In the old days, the print media could be cautioned and even silenced by a combination of bribes (government advertising) and coercion (Press and Publications Ordinance). But the stranglehold of the press laws ended in the 1990s following the revival of “electoral democracy” led by the two mainstream political parties (PPP and PMLN). A period of “enlightened moderation” by the civilianized military regime of General Pervez Musharraf – that had outlawed both the parties and needed media support for its own legitimacy – followed in the 2000s when permissions were freely granted to businessmen to set up TV channels and radio stations across the country. Before long, there was an explosion of “freedom”, with no-holds barred political talk shows, commentaries and sit-coms becoming the norm for popular entertainment.”


However, “downside to this media revolution is more significant. Fat cats from the industrial and commercial sector seized the commanding heights of the electronic media and marginalized the old band of print editor-owners who had risen by the bootstraps and not ventured forth into other businesses. These new entrants from the manufacturing, construction and service sectors were primarily motivated by one ruthless objective: to protect and enhance their business interests by leveraging their new media power with the civil-military establishment.”


And, social media “has degenerated rapidly into a big Anti-Social Media platform trolled by organized political interests. The PTI’s youth brigades were organized by slick IT professionals who were paid to milk this platform by setting up hundreds of fake Twitter accounts that could generate furious “made to order trends” to browbeat and drown out critical voices. Before long, the Miltablishment got into the act too and terms of endearment like “traitors”, “Raw/CIA Agents” began to compete with the shrill abuse of the PTI trolls.”

Another Spat with India is the Last thing Pakistan Needs…

Premier Imran Khan believes that his celebrity status and popularity in the subcontinent and beyond will ensure that any other leaders (and countries) are simply waiting with baited breaths for any policy decision he makes and will automatically accept his offers.
During his electoral campaign, Khan repeatedly denigrated Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to build ties with India, referring to Sharif as ‘Modi ka yaar.’ Now that he is in power, Khan realizes what every Premier does that you need better ties with your neighbors.
Three weeks after his electoral victory and a few weeks after the congratulatory letter that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Khan, Imran Khan sent a letter on September 14 requesting a restart of a dialogue between the two countries through an initial meeting of the two foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) meetings in NYC next week.  
In response, Delhi accepted what it referred to as “talks not dialogue” with a meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The killing of three special police officers in Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir by the terror group Hizbul Mujahideen following the brutal torture and killing of an Indian border (BSF) guard and the issuing of stamps celebrating the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani led to political backlash within India and resulted in the Indian government cancelling the meeting and issuing a statement.
Imran Khan at once took to twitter to tweet his anger at the Indian response and the Pakistani Foreign Office registered their protest as well.
This tit for tat will continue till Pakistan understands that if it wants to improve ties with its neighbors – India and Afghanistan – and with other countries it will need to stop supporting jihadis which currently seems improbable.


Nawaz is out, now what?


Two months into his 10-year long jail sentence on charges of corruption, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, were released from prison. The release came soon after the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentences in response to their appeals. According to Justice Athar Minallah: “The prosecution has failed to show the properties belong to Nawaz Sharif. It also failed to prove how was Maryam Nawaz sentenced under the same charge sheet which convicted Nawaz Sharif.”


In July 2018 Mr Sharif was sentenced “after being found guilty of corrupt practices related to the ownership of four luxury properties in central London linked to his family. His daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, received seven years for abetting a crime and one year for not co-operating – sentences which were due to run concurrently – while son-in-law Safdar Awan was given a one-year sentence for not co-operating. The convictions also barred them from seeking public office for up to 10 years after release.”


The National Accountability Bureau, can still appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.