Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2019: Gulalai Ismail

Source: Dawn

In a country where freedom of expression is considered an abomination and where democracy is seen with disdain, the bar to become a free speech hero is not very high. But a person who took dissent and to a new level, it is Gulalai Ismail. The winner of the Chirac Foundation Prize in France for her feminist organization Aware Girls in Pakistan, Gulalai upheld the tradition of Pakistani women being global ambassadors of everything positive the country had to offer.

Gulalai became a victim of harassment by state agencies after she had openly expressed her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. She was noted for speaking out against Pakistani military’s abuses against Pashtun women. Her fiery speech following the rape and murder of Farishteh, an Afghan refugee minor girl whose father was denied a police report because of their refugee status. She was arrested in February 2019 following that and was shortly released. However, her life remained under threat and her family was constantly harassed about her whereabouts after she withdrew from public life.

In September 2019, The New York Times reported in an explosive story that Gulalai had arrived in the United States and had applied for political asylum. This brought some relief to Gulalai but it was short-lived. While she was safe in the United States, her family was being harassed back home in Pakistan. She continues to speak out for her family’s rights, the rights of the Pashtun people, and especially women.

Gulalai’s father, Prof. Muhammad Ismail, is probably where she draws her fiery spirit from. Prof. Ismail, recently detained by the Pakistani authorities, is as fierce in his dissent as Gulalai and remains defiant of the state to this day. After a torturous detention, he was recently issued bail. His crime, being Gulalai’s father and a dissenter to the State of Pakistan.

An honorable mention is due to Ammar Ali Jan, the progressive political activist and academic from FC College Lahore, who has been abducted and charged with treason only for speaking out about the rights of the people and students. A columnist for The News, Ammar had not even joined twitter of late. However, his influence as a social activist. He was one of the organizers of the Students Solidarity March, along with the Progressive Students Federation, and was charged with treason among others after a successful display of non-violent force by the students on November 29. Today, the Students Solidarity March has prompted the lifting of the ban on the Students Union in Sindh Province and a similar resolution has been presented in the Punjab Assembly.

I feel proud to mention the name of Lala Iqbal Khan, the father of a great free speech hero and martyr Mishaal Khan in this post. Disgustingly, the case registered against the organizers of the Students Solidarity March also callously booked Lala Iqbal. Despite this treatment by the state, he stood on solid ground as far as his convictions were concerned.

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Last year saw the beginning of the #metoo movement in Pakistan. Despite odds, otherwise-seemingly- privileged artists such as Meesha Shafi came out against Ali Zafar. However, considering Pakistan’s social taboos, Jami jolted the conscience of Pakistani society with the revelation of being raped by Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon, a journalist who many would like to see as a free-speech hero in his own right considering the harassment of the Dawn Group. Jami’s struggle is going to be long and potentially fruitless. I don’t know if I am educated enough to even comment on it, other than showing unconditional support and solidarity to him.

An important and unlikely dissenter who should be mentioned among free speech heroes is Mufti Kifayatullah, and it would be dishonest to ignore him simply because he is a theocrat. Mufti Kifayatullah defied the convention that theocratic politicians are pro-establishment in the country and proved to be a breath of fresh air for a change for openly speaking out against the military.

Special mentions, of course, go to journalist Gul Bukhari, journalist Taha Siddiqui, and blogger Ahmed Waqas Goraya, all three of whom have been assaulted extrajudicially by the Pakistani authorities, who have been relentless in their criticism of the military establishment and state authoritarianism in Pakistan. They have particularly been a nuisance in getting obnoxious responses from the current DG ISPR. Goraya recently claimed to be responsible for the shut down of thousands of twitter accounts of trolls which he alleges to be hired by the information wing of the Pakistani military.

However, more than them, many of the prominent journalists still in the country, who cannot appear on TV anymore are probably greater free speech heroes, including Talat Hussain, Matiullah Jan, and Najam Sethi. Hamid Mir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, and Asma Shirazi are also fighting the good fight while still on the air.

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero for 2018 here.

A State of Fascist Silence

Source: Pakistan Today

I shared the news of a family killed by the anti-terrorist police force in Punjab a week ago. There was much hue and cry all across the country in the wake of the incident. The news was all over the media and people were sharing the haunting images.

Days after that incident, the Baluchistan police happened to kill a bright young poet, intellectual and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement political activist Arman Luni. He was killed while allegedly resisting arrest and was assaulted, according to mainstream Journalist Hamid Mir, with a rifle.

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There were very few images of Luni circulating in the social media and many did not even notice unless they happened to have a leftist among their friends. Most Pakistanis are not even aware any such thing happened outside of social media websites. There was a complete blackout in the Pakistan electronic channels. Hamid Mir was the only exception, but given his history, it’s not a surprise. I find this one pretty haunting, although I did not’

Source: YouTube video

I do not know much about Luni and can only express my shock and sadness at his death. But I am sure that his passion came from honesty and sensitivity about his fellow citizens deprived of their fundamental rights. And I do not care if they were necessarily against the state.

Yet another Pashtun individual lost his life in an extrajudicial murder. Nobody, though, would bother to speak for justice for them because they have an “Indian” agenda and are traitors. Such vitriol has been spread from the mainstream media and the social media from the time that the bureaucratic administration realized that simply ignoring the movement is not doing the job for them. A good number of urban population, at least in Punjab and Sindh, have their minds made up about the movement but we will reach a point when it will start tearing the fabric of the federation. This is only possible if Pakistan decides to become more democratic, which unfortunately goes against its core values.

And of course, to add insult to injury, they have cracked down on the non-violent PTM protest rally in Islamabad. No reason was given for the arrests, among which is the highly targeted Pashtun activist Gulalai Ismail, who has probably become the second most wanted person after Manzoor Pashteen. After two days of detention from the authorities, Gulalai was finally released on February 7.

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All I can say is that the current attitude targeting the Pashtun people by the state is not going to end well. Right now, things are moving along without much trouble, but it might not remain that way eventually. And this is where the federal policymakers, who believe in the concept of the Pakistani federation including the military leadership, should get their heads together and think about where the country is headed. The fascist Pakistani nationalists give me shivers when they call our brothers and sisters of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement traitors. And with orders such as the Islamabad arrest, the military and bureaucratic regime gives me the chills and shocks me of the country that I grew up in. It’s like you are living in Iran or Venezuela

Right now, we are in a state of fascist silence and wonder who’s going to break it. The likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Gulalai Ismail are out there to unveil our guise of morality and righteousness.

No wonder they are called traitors.