What Mir Shakil-ur Rehman’s Conviction Means For The Rest of Us

Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman

Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman’s sentence to 26 years in prison for blasphemy has shocked the world. Besides questions about misuse of blasphemy laws, global human rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the fairness of the trial and warn that it could have ‘chilling effect on freedom of expression in Pakistan’. There is another meaning, though, that is far more frightening than worrying about freedom of expression.

Mir Shakil-ur Rehman is a wealthy person. He is well connected and can hire dozens of lawyers to defend him in all the high courts, in the apex court and possibly in many of the lower courts but still he can’t face 75 FIRs, 75 criminal investigations and 75 courts. If this could happen to a person with so much influence, the tales of the injustices of our criminal justice system in the case of ordinary Pakistanis and poor fellows would have been horrific and atrocious.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman has been estimated to be the second richest man in Pakistan. He controls the nation’s largest media empire, and is as politically connected as possible. Still this was not enough to save him, and like so many others he has reportedly been forced to flee his own own country.

What hope then for the common man who has no riches to hire an army of lawyers. No media group to help make his case in the public’s eyes. No friends in the halls of power to twist arms and pressurize the powers that be. What hope could Asia Bibi, Sawan Masih, and the countless other minorities who are targeted with blasphemy charges?

For the Jang/Geo chief, the courts have declared him a blasphemer and stained him with a black mark that could threaten his very life. For the rest of us, the courts have put us on notice that our meager existence is subject to the whims and vindictiveness of our enemies.

In other words, none of us is safe.

The worst of the blasphemy law is yet to come

Anti-Geo TV messages

A blasphemy case has been registered under sections 295, 295C 298C and others against GEO media group owner, Mir Shakilur Rehman, anchor Shaista Lodhi, Veena Malik, Asad Khatak and other people, creating a new state of affairs.

Perhaps this is the first time that such high profile people have been charged under the blasphemy law and these are all very serious charges with the most severe punishment ranging up to the death penalty.

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#BanGeo: Bringing Some Balance To The Debate

The national drama around who tried to kill Hamid Mir has divided the nation into two vocal camps: Hypernationalists calling for censorship and punishing anyone who dares to criticise the military and those who are so accustomed to criticising the military that they are defending some of the very same practices that they condemned in the past. Some balance has begun to appear, though, and it is worth promoting these perspectives as part of an effort to find a solution based in reason and not emotion.

First let us address the issue of whether ISI was responsible for the attack. Geo’s airing of this claim was sensationalistic, and the airing of a photo of DG ISI during the reporting was the equivalent of media ‘trolling’. It was designed to create a strong reaction. The problem with responding to trolls, though, is that strong reactions usually backfire, making you look as bad as the troll. The Army would be wise not to fall into this trap.

The Army is understandably unhappy about some of the way the attack against Hamid Mir was reported, but accusing Jang Group of being anti-military is hard to believe when this is the same group that publishes the opinions of columnists like Shireen Mazari, Ahmed Quraishi, and Maleeha Lodhi.

Not only Army, but other media houses should avoid the temptation to engage in opportunistic attempts to benefit from Geo’s troubles. Express’s claim that Jang is ‘running a malicious slander campaign against Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency and its chief’ is itself a malicious slander campaign that is both unnecessary and unhelpful to Express’s own image problems. And all media groups should be careful about participating in a setting a precedent for censorship. Today it may be #BanGeo…but tomorrow it could just as easily be #BanExpress…

It should also be noted that the #BanGeo campaign is not a response to the recent controversy, but has been going on since years before the present situation. Here is a a Facebook page created four years ago that parrots the same talking points.

bangeo

Maybe the question should be asked more prominently whose interests are served by this campaign that has been going on for years?

As accusations are thrown and parties try to benefit from the chaos, it should be remembered that when mud is thrown, even the thrower himself ends up dirty. Finally, all sides should take a moment to reflect on the excellent editorial from The Nation today:

If we leave journalism and its ethics to the journalists, and criminal investigations to the police and related authorities, and both do their jobs — we should be fine. At the moment, this is not the case.

The Right To Be Wrong

Keep calm and let's agree to disagree

When I first started writing for this blog, I thought the hardest part was not finding topics to discuss but handling the abuse that came with giving an opinion. After receiving some particularly nasty emails, I told my father I was thinking of giving up writing. He could see I was clearly depressed about it because I truly enjoy writing and discussing important topics. Not because I think I have all the answers – no one does – but because I believe that it is in discussion and debate that we find them. Baba sat me down and said, ‘beta, before you make your decision, I want you to recite Al-Baqarah 256’. I paused. With a puzzled look I said, ‘There is no compulsion in religion? But what does this have to do with my problem?’ My father nodded his head and said, ‘Now tell me this: These pieces you write, are they about something more important than religion?’ I was still puzzled. ‘Of course not. They are important issues – politics, economics, foreign policy, etc etc – but not more important than religion’. My father nodded again. ‘If Qur’an teaches us that there is no compulsion in religion, how can there be compulsion in these issues that you are writing about which you yourself admit are of lesser importance?’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just stared at him. He smiled and continued, ‘Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used reason, not compulsion, to spread Islam. Follow his example. Don’t let anyone bully you into silence, and don’t let them compel you to agree with them. Admit when you are wrong, and allow others the right to be wrong sometimes also.’

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Good Taliban, Bad Taliban, and Useful Idiots

TTP media cell has been busy since the past few days. In addition to new promises to murder young girls, spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has also explained that TTP is receiving funding and sanctuary from the Afghan Taliban.

“The Afghan Taliban are our jihadi brothers,” said Shahidullah Shahid in an interview in Waziristan, the Taliban’s main tribal sanctuary in Pakistan along the Afghan border.

“In the beginning, we were helping them, but now they are strong enough and they don’t need our help, but they are now supporting us financially.”

None of this is really news, of course. TTP has been telling of their support from Afghan Taliban for long. In 2009, TTP leaders even swore allegiance to Mullah Omar.

That the idea of ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’ even exists is a testament to the effectiveness of media operations out of certain quarters who, despite being convinced of their own cunning, haven’t figured out that they’ve been had.

And so, while TTP militants are butchering innocents and giving life threats against defenceless school girls, we are served the same old reheated dishes.

Meanwhile, unable to think of how to defeat the real enemy, media gazis are shadow boxing….

…and trying to start the war they want instead of fighting the war they have…

geo

…which I’m sure Shahidullah Shahid appreciates since it makes his job so much easier.