CENSORED: Who Will Pay?

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 26th Dec. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Pakistan Media

So Pakistan’s public will be made to bear the cost of about three million pounds damages and costs for the case filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman (MSR) of the Jang/ Geo group against ARY channel for Mubashir Luqman’s twenty four libelous shows.
This will be the result of the UK High Court’s verdict against ARY for twenty four unbridled and defamatory programmes by Mubashir Lucman against MSR whilst at ARY.

But the UK court didn’t ask the citizens to pay, you might remark.
And you would be right to remark thus.
The court has stipulated ARY to pay out for damaging MSR’s reputation and endangering his life, as a lesson to ARY (and others) to not indulge in such activities.
But imagine: will the owner of ARY channel Salman Iqbal take this lying down, when he has no dog in the game except support from ‘the agencies’? A one-time loss he might even be willing to bear.
But given the slew of cases now being filed in the United Kingdom against ARY (including by the strongest Pakistani industrialist, Mian Mansha, and human rights activist Malala’s father) he would be inclined to bill the agencies for this bill, to set a precedent and basis for them footing the bills for all he has been doing at their behest.

Which brings us back to ‘Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency’.
Salman Iqbal will likely forward the bill to them.
And ‘they’ should rightly pay.
But what does that mean for us, the citizens? What it means is that in addition to its already invisible and unaccountable budget, millions of further pounds will have to be allocated, such that it can pay the bills for the new trend in foreign suits.

Is this, then, not the time for the people and the parliament to renew calls to bring the ‘the primary intelligence agency’ under democratic and financial oversight? This latest ARY casualty would just serve as the peg, the actual thousand leagues under the sea that is ‘the intelligence agency’ being the real target.

But here I must make a very important correction: in recent years the PR arm of the military has been a veritable arm of the military’s intelligence agencies, with the head of said PR agency, while leading the onslaught of military chief’s PR campaign, leading social media attacks on human rights and democracy activists, and leading social media attacks on ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘ghaddars’ with his bevvy of the ‘Baloch girl’ army, has been reigning supreme.

So will this PR agency be made to pay part of the ARY bills (present and future)? Clearly, whilst ARY is now somewhat chained because of its broadcasts in the UK, BOL will carry on unfettered (to my knowledge it does not broadcast in other jurisdictions, and will cancel any plans to do so because of the ARY fiasco).

But what all this means is that we, the Pakistani citizens, will end up paying more for attacks against us, in the shape of (nontransparent) higher budgets for the country’s premier PR and intelligence agencies.

Moving on to Qazi Faez Isa and Najam Sethi’s take on the report: I was one of the first persons to identify the gaping hole in the honourable justice’s report.
That of not holding the Frontier Corp (FC) to account in any manner for the Quetta horror, obliterating in one fell an entire generation of lawyers and activists.
But Sethi saheb’s editorial of last Friday, whilst correctly criticizing Justice Isa’s report for not holding security agencies to account, ‘doth protest too much’ against the criticism of Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister.
Not a word spoken against him in the Quetta Commission Report is untrue.
Did he not ignore all requests to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ud-Dawa Al Almi for months despite their claims (and no evidence to the contrary) of having perpetrated the Quetta lawyers massacre? Was he not caught hiding behind NACTA, which was hiding behind the ISI, which said, ‘they should have done their job per the law (despite the unwritten norms with regard to us’?

Whilst I’m the first one to agree with Sethi sahib regarding the egregious oversight with regard to security agencies far as the Quetta Inquiry Commission report is concerned, I am not with him in trying to exonerate the Minister of Interior.
I understand that what Sethi saheb is saying is that this is unfair.
But then rather than exonerate the boys’ man Chaudhry Nisar, why not question ‘them’? Why not try and expose ‘them’ rather than shield elements in the government? Let Chaudhry Nisar be the first casualty.
Only after might we be able to reach his enablers? My most humble submission to Sethi saheb: let’s catch what we can; only it can lead to the elements we have never been able to ‘catch’.
Let’s not exonerate obvious culprits.
Let’s try and get through to culprits via culprits.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @gulbukhari

“Something Went Wrong”: The Chilling Effect Of State Terrorism On Journalism

Something went wrong

When Najam Sethi discussed the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud on his show, an interesting thing happened. The audio feed cut in and out during the program. Many viewers ignored the brief periods of silence, chalking it up to technical problems with their sets or with the the transmission. Only later was it realised that the missing audio was probably not an accident.

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Hagiographies: Who are they trying to convince?

Gen Raheel

Taliban released a new biography of Mullah Omar recently amid growing frustration among jihadi militants and the rise of Daesh in the region. The work has been described as a having tone of ‘hagiography’, the word used for writing about the life of a saint. This is widely seen as an attempt to rally support behind the missing Mullah who hasn’t been seen since many years yet still claims to be in command of Taliban forces. Mullah Omar isn’t the only subject of new ‘hagiography’. Increasingly, such works are appearing in Pakistan media detailing another subject: Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif.

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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.

Media Must Unite To Defend Itself From Attacks

2nd December attack on Express office Karachi

Pakistan’s media freedom is the subject of frequent conversation. Whether one is of the opinion that deregulation provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories and other sensationalism, or that a truly independent media is the only institution capable of keeping a check on vested interests – whether political, military, or judicial – most agree that free media has a positive influence on the country. For a small minority, though, free media is seen as a threat, and lately, that minority has been waging a war on media freedom.

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