Denial of Freedoms and Restrictive Spaces: Challenges for Pakistan’s Civil Society, a report which is no ordinary was recently mulled over at Karachi Press Club. Eminent civil society activists, academic Dr Riaz Shaikh, rights activists Advocate Ali Palh and Zulfiqar Shah, and a researcher, Zeenia Shaukat, expressed concern over the deteriorating state of civic freedoms of the civil society sector of the country.
Military Ruling the Roast.
The report reiterates the restricted level of civic freedoms namely freedom of speech, information, assembly and association in the light of existing trends and practices in Pakistan. Clearly indicating the death of jamhooriat – upon which Pakistan was established in 1947 as a nation-state, as envisaged by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. A paradox to democracy – by the people, of the people, and for the people of Pakistan, it stands today as a pseudo-political-social framework with the military at the helm Ruling the Roast.
Democracy in Pakistan, however imperfect, has been allowed to function to varying degrees. Until 2013, Pakistan has not experienced even one democratic transfer of power from one democratically elected government that has completed its tenure to another. All of its previous democratic transitions have been aborted by a military coup.
The concerns of these rights activists are genuine and let’s see why
Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege
The International Federation of Journalists describes Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists in Pakistan live under the constant threat of killings, harassment, and other violence. They suffer at the hands of all sides – armed groups, such as the Taliban, government intelligence services and political parties.
A total of 120 journalists and media workers have been killed between the years 2005 and 2018 alone and since 2002, there have been merely five convictions of the perpetrators. But these killings are just the most brutal statistic, many more journalists have been intimidated, threatened, harassed, abducted, tortured or escaped assassination attempts in the same period.
Frequent imposition of Section 144
Restriction on freedom of expression is further reflected in the lack of media plurality, internet freedom, and artistic freedom. Freedom of assembly, a fundamental right enshrined in Article 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan, is often violated and civil society is its frequent victim. To illustrate this point, civil society activists at KPC recounted a list of actions, in the last five years, taken against peaceful rallies and demonstrations. This included the frequent imposition of Section 144 to suspend peaceful gatherings.
Student politics a threat?
The failure of the state is also borne by the student politics in Pakistan. Their own insecurities worry them, the fear of the charged youth standing for his/her lawful rights makes the top brass jittery. If we recall these student unions have played a significant role in various national political movements in the past – Tashkent Declaration that eventually led to President Ayub Khan’s ouster in 1969.
The political movement of Pakistan National Alliance for the ouster of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1977 also involved a large body of students. The actual problem lies in the fact that these student unions have always played a mentionable and indelible role in student mobilization and national level movements and have not feared to voice their opinions on international issues as well. The revival of student politics is envisaged as a great threat. Therefore the ban.
The aim to alienate the civil society from country affairs in Pakistan solely aims at breaking their power. By making them culturally, socially or politically aware there is a fear of being questioned, therefore aloofness is by order! But without transparency, it is very unlikely that there would be trust between the civil & the military. Constructive criticism is a good thing, wonder why in Pakistan the hierarchy is so averse to it. One must remember that no country can soar high without enlisting its public at large.
18 Sep 18/Tuesday Written by Afsana