Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2018: Manzoor Pashteen

Source: Rahat Dar/EPA/The Guardian

In a year that has been widely recognized as one of the darkest, if not the worst ever, in terms of free speech in Pakistan, only someone who could take on the state could be the most important free speech hero.

As Pakistan becomes more and more of a police station since the Taliban insurgency and the War on Terror, the state is doubling down on authoritarian security measures. However, in the name of national security, you will often find the voice of political dissidents suppressed.  Such has been the case with Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is a protest political movement against the active racial profiling against the Pashtuns in Pakistan as well as the missing persons abducted in the aftermath of the Waziristan operations carried out by the Pakistan military. Perhaps this movement would not have gathered such spontaneous support across Pakistan had the discrimination against Pashtuns not reached such pan-national scale. The boiling point came with the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, which triggered nationwide outrage from the Pashtun community, except for the ones too uncomfortably close with the state establishment.

Manzoor Pashteen is important of perhaps all the free speech heroes in Pakistan due to the influence he has been able to exert in a very short time and with no resources at all. And he managed to get under the skin of the Punjabi establishment, a sign of which was the state-backed propaganda against the movement on the mainstream media. The Punjab government even featured his image in an advisory against terrorists. And such state behavior ensued while no action was taken against the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which made openly rebellious statements and perhaps contributed to pushing the limits of free speech in Pakistan itself.

The PTM is a completely grassroots movement and primarily making use of the social media, the PTM leadership rose and rallied its supporters and sympathizers and now even have two MPs in the parliament. Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, whose names were recently included in the Exit Control List for a while, have been just as vocal about the issues. However, they lack the central attention that Pashteen has been able to garner with his unlikely charisma. His trademark Pashteen cap has become a symbol of defiance and resistance among the PTM supporters.

ANP veterans and secular progressives Senator Afrasiab Khattak and former MP Bushra Gohar were suspended from party membership due to their sympathy for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and outspoken rhetoric against the military establishment. They are doing their bit to make the PTM grievances more mainstream, while also sending a message how the movement is larger than partisan agenda, considering how the state has been portraying Manzoor Pashteen as more or less treasonous. Whether his campaign will be any more effective than it is, considering how politically passive the rest of Pakistan is becoming under a strict suppression of dissent, it is yet to be seen.

It was not just the pro-PTM lawmakers who had a hard time in terms of expulsions and blacklistings on the Exit Control List. Award-winning human rights activists were not immune from the penalty too. Gulalai Ismail, an ethnic Pashtun who has been recognized by the Government of France on her work on her NGO project “Aware Girls” was the biggest victim in the anti-PTM witchhunt by the state. A girl who used to be a hero is now interrogated by the FIA on arrival and her name has been put on the Exit Control List.

In a year that saw major assaults on free speech in Pakistan, there is no shortage of heroes here. The Pakistani journalist, in general, suffered a very difficult year in 2018. This year marked the violation of the boundaries of the Karachi Press Club, something which had never even occurred in the darkest days under General Zia according to Ghazi Salahuddin. Journalists Taha S. Siddiqui and Gul Bukhari have been two major names as well. Taha was assaulted and chased by armed men in civilian clothing but who obviously had the state’s agenda to carry out against journalists who were doing inconvenient reporting. Before his name could have been put on the Exit Control List, he managed to make a safe exit to France. The clearly pro-PML-N Gul Bukhari, who was also abducted briefly by similar mysterious people, has been vocal against the military establishment and the incumbent PTI government. Both of them are still vocal against the state establishment on social media.

Source: The Daily Times

Another great free speech hero that cannot be commended enough not only for his contribution to free speech in Pakistan but for his service in general to humanity is Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death according to the It was his tireless efforts and advocacy that eventually helped overturn the death sentence of Asia Bibi and paved way for the Supreme Court to acquit her of the alleged charges. Now considering how hospitable Pakistan is to any such citizen, it is not a surprise that Saif-ul-Malook had to leave Pakistan and has now reportedly taken temporary asylum in the Netherlands.

Ali Raza Abidi, the former MQM MP, who has been openly critical of the incumbent government and was also estranged with the MQM leadership, also got silenced by unknown forces this Christmas. His assassination is a reminder that individual thought and secular liberal minds remain to be an endangered and threatened species in this country.

Finally, probably the greatest free speech hero we will ever have passed away earlier this year. Asma Jahangir who will remain to be the guiding beacon for people pursuing

As long as Pakistan remains a battleground for free speech, we will continue to see such obvious and unlikely heroes emerge.

Read about the Pakistan free speech hero for the year 2017 here.

A Heroic Verdict from a Dark Judiciary

Source: aleteia.org

Finally! Asia Bibi has been acquitted of committing a non-crime.

Imagine the agony of the nine precious, irreplaceable years that the people and the state of Pakistan have taken away from her. Imagine the pain she and her family have been going through. As a nation, we have truly abused, harassed, and silenced her.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar is a complex character. He is a judicial vigilante with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and probably believes that he has been sanctioned by divine authority to carry out some special task. This probably explains his bizarre behavior as the office-bearer of the highest judicial position in the country. However, his latest action, or at least the bench under him, has resulted in a historic heroic verdict from what has been an otherwise dark judiciary under him.

As heroic this verdict is, you can still read its full text and laugh at some of the ridiculous religious articles found in its initial arguments, especially conceding that the penalty for blaspheming against the Holy Prophet should be death as per the Islamic teachings. Not much you can blame the judges for considering the nature of the cases they are dealing with. However, going deep into it, you would wonder how the lower courts found Asia Bibi guilty based on the testimony that the current Supreme Court found untrustworthy and not having legal standings. This speaks volumes about how dangerous the blasphemy law and its usage in the judiciary. It is shocking how such interpretations of judges could be the difference between the life and death of a person. Especially in ridiculous offenses such as blasphemy.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa closes his judgment with a particularly interesting remark.

Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religionand religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixingtruth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PeaceBe Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous. It is ironical thatin the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’ but inthe circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in thewords of Shakespeare’s
King Leare, “more sinned against than sinning”.
– p. 55, Criminal Appeal No. 39-L of 2015, October 31, 2018

Of course, following this verdict, pandemonium ensured across the country. The lunatic goons of the Tehreek Labaik Ya-Rasool Allah (TLP), a murderous cult of fanatics ran loose in the streets. The clerics of the movement openly called against the murder of the Justices who made the verdict and even called for the military rule on the condition of overthrowing Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who is commonly “alleged” to be an Ahmedi, which is a total abomination in the Pakistani society. As we speak, the TLP is ruining the traffic in my town by staging a sit-in protest at Faizabad.

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The newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, who ignored the clear merits of blocking roads and suddenly realizing that it hurts the poor, condemned elements such as the TLP and warned against stern action, even referring to them as “treasonous.” This bold piece of leadership also deserves a lot of appreciation.

Despite all their shortcomings and theocratic leanings, the Supreme Court justices managed to pull off not just a sane but heroic verdict under the circumstances. Their courage for keeping up the values of justice in the face of murderous religious fanatics is indeed praiseworthy.

Let’s hope these small steps of courage can lead to the eventual demise of the blasphemy law.