The New Censorship Regime in Pakistan

Source: Pakistan Today

After ten years of relative democracy in the country after General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from 2008 to the last election in 2018, the country enjoyed an oasis of the explosion of free expression. Again that free expression is an expression to be used in relevant terms. Either way, Pakistan has not seen such flourishing of journalism in its history until the new censorship regime was introduced by the military and bureaucratic establishment.

With the assumption of office of the current military establishment and their subsequent “selection” of the PTI administration under Imran Khan, the censorship of the media has never been escalated to such a degree. Other than the organized harassment campaigns against journalists, the twitter handles of three journalists were forcibly deactivated temporarily by the state agents. Sadly, there is ample data on the web for anybody who wants to write a paper on it.

Journalist Hamid Mir recently held a press conference in which he sounded like a political activist campaigning for rights instead of a reporter. Well, things have gone this bad for journalists in the country and probably more than ever before.

 

Only a few days back, the ruling political party removed all doubts whatsoever as far as its support of the crackdown on journalists is concerned. Many journalists can barely believe that a party that owes so much of its current support to the media.

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Pakistani state agenda’s true representative political party PTI went out of its way to launch a disgusting campaign against press freedom. What they pretty much mean is that if a journalist is not following state propaganda, they are committing treason. Some of the tweets even directly implied that as reported by Dawn.

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The powerful DG ISPR also routinely lectures journalists about what they should report on.

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The ruling party PTI, which rose to power as a result of constant media coverage when it was in the opposition, has routinely blocked coverage to the opposition. Particularly Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a new leader on the rise, protesting with the aim to free her father former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified and jailed following two controversial judgments. Media outlets such as Geo Network have been repeatedly blocked in local cable following the coverage of her rallies. Earlier interviews of President Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif were blocked from the media but the latter was not even mentioned in the mainstream electronic media, which the military and bureaucratic establishment, along with the PTI considers the actual source of public information.

To many journalists, the kind of censorship practiced under the PTI regime even surpasses the standards set by the draconian Zia regime. However, the difference is that this 21st-century censorship continues despite the presence of social media on the parallel. Considering how dissent is considered “treason” by the patriotic lot in Pakistan, wonder when we will see a blanket ban on social media. We know our government has tried that before in the previous administration. The day people finally decide to come out on the streets against this draconian government, that day is not far off either.

Pakistan can become Sudan any day.

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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.

Hameed Haroon’s Case Against Media Censorship in Pakistan

Source: BBC

The pro-military nationalist and PTI trolls, which are effectively the same team now, have been trumpeting how comprehensively Hameed Haroon was ripped apart for his anti-establishment viewpoint, oblivious of the fact that hard line of questioning is the format of the show. Even some journalists were disappointed by his performance. But I cannot imagine why. There really was nothing about the interview that was not properly handled by him. I have shared the video in this post and clearly, all of them and I are watching completely different shows.

There are a few things to say about the content of the show and the way Hameed Haroon covered it. Other than the disingenuous questioning representing the supposed viewpoint of the nationalistic elements that Stephen Sackur had to come up with to keep up with the format of the show, Haroon used self-restraint for the most part. What the critics of his performance on the show are forgetting is that he could have been far more direct and blunt in his criticism of the military than he was. This was because he was obviously mindful of the fact that he was representing Pakistan on an international media forum.

But it is his duty to the people and journalism in Pakistan to present the case for preserving democracy and freedom of the press in the country. And when his media group is one of the primary victims, he is indeed rightful to make the case against the military imposed censorship. Furthermore, I am very glad he brought up that ridiculous chart that the DG ISPR had put up in his press conference as if to send a message that the bloggers were a criminal cartel or a terrorist group. What about his army of paid trolls? As for the question of Dawn favoring Nawaz Sharif, which any regular reader of the center-left leaning paper knows is simply not true, comes out only of op-ed pieces criticizing the unfair targeting of this political figure by the state establishment, not their reporting.

There is no doubt that Hameed Haroon could have been more articulate than he actually was, Obviously, in my humble opinion, while he is the perfect man to speak on the subject, on the question of evidence for military meddling in the media, he failed to bring up the dozens of journalists killed over a period of five odd years in Pakistan, as well as dozens, if not hundreds more. I am sure the journalists expressing their disappointment must be upset at things of that nature. Everything documented a bit too well by the international media. That is already incriminating evidence against the military intelligence thugs hard at work at curbing dissenting journalism in the name of national security. That is enough evidence you need.

But more than that, more than presenting hard evidence which sounds so cold, it is a matter of experience. It is about the shit we are dealing with every single day. The abduction of Gul Bukhari is not a myth. The harassment of Taha Siddiqui is not a concoction. Nobody made up the story of Umer Cheema picked up by the agencies, tortured, and had his head and eyebrows shaved. Hamid Mir actually got shot by a bullet and Saleem Shahzad paid for his doing his job with his life. A simple Google search will offer you all the evidence you are looking for.

Probably journalists in Pakistan are getting more than they bargained for. They should probably quit their jobs and start selling Pakistani flags and prayer mats to make a living to appease the nationalists at home.

Cyber-Bullying Institutionalized & Published

According to one of my twitter friends, the social media have brought out the assholes in everyone. Cyber-bullying has become a phenomenon in the age of social networking, but it was taken to the next level with the case of a young man in an Imran Khan protest rally talking about the conduct of the police and the difficulties he faced in the rally. The video which has become the object of ridicule on twitter, facebook and other social media, unfortunately, was either leaked or aired from a private Pakistani TV channel, and I’m sure the experience must have been traumatic to the person in the video.

While everyone shared the video to their personal audience, something odd caught my eye yesterday. The correspondent of the New York Times in Pakistan, who apparently had run out of topics to write about, had all the time in the world to write about the video and use it to prove how ridiculous was Imran Khan’s cause. Of course, it was an important event in the history of AfPak. Even a few of well-known Pakistani journalists were sharing the link and cracking jokes on it.

While I disagree with Imran Khan and his supporters as far as their so-called revolution is concerned too,  but this had certainly gone too far, simply out of political opposition and hatred, which goes to show the kind of journalism that is being practised.

The New York Times blog post, along with the video broadcasted from Pakistani channels,  institutionalized the cyber-bullying and since it was against the PTI and published in an American publication, it was OK by the standards of the so-called liberal journalists in Pakistan. But what to say about Pakistani journalists, who were of course the source of the video anyway. To make matters worse, the Honorable Pakistani Ambassador to the United States made it official by tweeting the post.

Yes, nothing wrong with sharing the link, and let us not expect any sane behavior from the general public including myself. Well everyone needs a good laugh, isn’t it? But institutions need to be more responsible than individuals and the public, Pakistani channels included, especially the Honorable Ambassador. Isn’t it?

Hilarious.

It’s a lesson to everyone that you should think twice before talking to the press.

I shared the link on social networking as well and rather feel ashamed and disgusted at myself, though the idea was not to ridicule but to show how much people know about a revolution. But that is when the cause is lost and you invade someone’s privacy and become the culprit yourself. The intention of other people and journalists sharing it would have been the same, except for those cracking jokes on him, but making his comments a point to discuss on publications, …well you decide.

I apologize to the person in the video and have learned my lesson in cyber-bullying.  Also learned my lesson in how the press works.

While this post would only propagate the video further, it would also hopefully offer the side of the picture that very few are presenting, so I thought that writing about is alright after all. Comments are welcome.

The point to ponder, which goes for myself too, is:

There is no point in laughing at the political ideas of kids. They are only learning.

But guess what, adults need to learn too.