Pakistan Should Stop Treating Dissent as Sedition or Treason

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Arrests and charges of sedition and treason against Pakistani citizens has been going on for decades. Every government promises that it will be better than the previous, but it follows the same path.

There has been a rise in arrests and cases filed against opposition leaders and journalists on charges of sedition, treason, and making statements conducing to ‘public mischief’ and incitement to violence. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement expressing “deep concern.”

In its statement HRCP notes “The sheer impunity with which such arrests have been made, often without warning in the early hours of the morning, with some of those arrested alleging that their families were harassed and their property damaged, is cause for alarm. Successive governments have brazenly weaponised archaic, colonial-era laws to stifle dissent. Never has this served any democratic purpose.”

HRCP clarified, “we do not condone abusive or threatening language or slander,” yet it warned “in light of the recent arrests of leaders such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and Fawad Chaudhry under Sections 153-A, 505 and 124-A, HRCP urges the government to abolish the sedition law, as it is currently worded, from the Pakistan Penal Code, given its long history as a tool of political victimisation. A political process to do so, which was initiated in the Senate in early 2020 but could not come to fruition, must be revived immediately. Section 124-A constitutes a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy and should never be construed as sedition.”

 

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Author: Alia Khan