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.

Khalid Hussain: Another Casualty for Pakistan’s Freedom of Press

Source: Khalid Hussain/The Nation

Pakistan is probably seeing perhaps the worst year in press freedom under the Bajwa-Imran regime in an age in which communications are supposed to advance.

The Nation, one of the traditionally conservative English language newspapers, which had taken a turn for a more liberal narrative in recent years, fired its political cartoonist about a week ago or so. Muhammad Khalid had drawn a satirical cartoon highlighting the toothlessness of Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose megalomania has created an illusion of his person becoming an important statesman capable of resolving long-time international disputes.

The context of this caricature is President Trump offering to mediate between Pakistan and India to help resolve the Kashmir issue.

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Here is what The Nation Apology reads:

We would like to apologize deeply for a cartoon that appeared on our pages. The artwork fell short of our editorial standards and does not reflect our editorial policy. It should never have appeared.

We are proud to be a nationalistic paper and we regret sincerely the attention taken by an artwork that was inappropriate, especially at the time of the UN General Assembly session taking place in New York.

The necessary steps have been taken to ensure our internal procedures. And once again, we humbly extend our sincere apologies and regret.

This dismissal may sound like the prerogative of the editor of the publication, who paradoxically had published it, but this is becoming all too common in the self-censoring media in Pakistan. The Nation, an about-to-collapse publication which has been heavily infiltrated with the sympathizers and representatives of the military establishment, could obviously not bear to support such expression on its pages.

The curbs on media freedom in Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse under the Imran-Bajwa regime and several international observers, including Reporters Sans Frontiers, have critiicized the administaration for falsely denying it. Recently, Dawn’s iconic magazine The Herald also closed its operations and several other printing publications are under the threat of vanishing in the country.

Speaking to Gandhara, Khalid Hussain said, “I don’t know how long they will not be printing my cartoons or whether they will ever print my cartoons [again].” He further clarified what he wanted to convey in the cartoon. “I didn’t aim to hit Imran Khan personally. But as the prime minister of the country, he symbolically represents the country he rules,” he said. “What I felt was that Trump has repeatedly assured Pakistan to mediate between India and Pakistan. But he later said that Modi has not agreed to [his mediation].”

Khalid may still try making his political caricatures independently but can never be sure how he is going to pay his bills. This concern has become the biggest moral compass for many professionals in the journalism industry in Pakistan, which increasingly deprives them of fair and timely wages (if they are paid at all) and editorial protection.

This is yet another casualty for freedom of the press in perhaps one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. But then again, the truth being a casualty in Pakistan is just another day in the war-like theocratic Sultanate.