Academic Freedom under Threat in Pakistan

Pakistan has one of the worst records when it comes to laws on blasphemy.  While minorities — Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus — are the main targets under these laws, this does not mean that others are not implicated.

Professors like Junaid Hafeez and Khalid Hameed and students like Mashal Khan are well known names. To these we can now add Professor Sajid Soomro of Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur who was arrested on grounds of blasphemy and sedition and Dr Arfana Mallah, a Hyderabad-based human rights activist, who when expressed dismay at the incident, “was immediately subjected to a vicious campaign led by clerics with political associations, calling for her to be charged with blasphemy.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement expressing alarm at “the recurring wave of vicious campaigns against academics. Professor Soomro and Dr Mallah have done nothing more than exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression – their right as citizens, their duty as academics. Indeed, it has become frighteningly common to hear of charges of sedition and blasphemy being used to intimidate citizens who dare speak up. Lest we forget, Junaid Hafeez, Mashal Khan and Professor Khalid Hameed were all victims of a skewed, capricious system built to suppress academic freedom among teachers and students alike.

HRCP deplores all such attempts to scuttle academic freedom by targeting intellectuals on flimsy grounds. The state must ensure the safety of its citizens and prohibit the misuse of the blasphemy and sedition laws to silence independent voices or settle personal scores.”

Author: K.M. Rizvi

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