‘Freedom of expression being curbed on pretext of national security’


ISLAMABAD: At an event on Saturday, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said a new model for democracy is forming in Pakistan, under which the steering of the vehicle – the government – will be in the hands of a political personality, while the “clutch and accelerator” will be controlled from the backseat. He said this vehicle would definitely face a devastating accident.

Mr Babar was speaking at a ‘Consultation on the Development in Freedom of Expression in Pakistan’, arranged by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

He said this practice needed to end, and a parliamentary committee on national security must be constituted to examine the civil-military disconnect.

“A number of steps have been taken which were not in the knowledge of the politicians, such as the Torkham border closure. Angoor Adda was handed over to another country, but the minister of interior was not aware of it,” he said.

He said mainly ‘national security’ is used to curb freedom of expression.

Describing the experiences of many parliamentarians, Mr Babar said when the question was raised about whether armed forces officers declare their assets with General Headquarters (GHQ), they were told it was a matter of national security.

“We asked if an inquiry report on the Kargil issue will ever be made public, but again the same reply was given. A number of questions were rejected by the chamber referring to senate chairman office. Again the chamber did not give an answer to a question about a person killed in NAB custody, saying it was not a matter of public interest. Due to which, a book titled ‘Killed in Chamber’ was published,” he said.

“Right to information (RTI) laws were made in provinces because armed forces are a federal subject. But the federal government has not approved the RTI bill, despite 17 cabinet meetings,” he said.

The Nawaz League MNA Ramesh Kumar Vanwani said the RTI bill could not be passed during the PPP’s tenure, and this was also the case with the PML-N government.

“The media criticises why the drone attack was [carried out]in Balochistan, but it does not say how Taliban leaders are found in Pakistan,” he said.

MQM MNA Farooq Sattar said political parties should have taken measures in 2008 to ensure the freedom of expression, and because of their negligence the heads of all the important political parties were facing problems.

“Standing committees have become dysfunctional. Altaf Hussain’s case is the only case in history in which the court, which protects basic rights, has suspended a right to expression.”

Supreme Court advocate Abid Saqi said that even judges do not understand issues. He said they had capacity issues, and there were no arrangements to hold refresher courses for judges.

Pakistan Bar Council member Qalb-i-Hassan said the army and the judiciary were working hand in hand. He said one violates the law, and the other validates it.

Journalist Hamid Mir pointed out that while the recovery of Rs730 million from a personality in Balochistan became huge news, the media did not discuss the recovery of Rs13 billion from a brigadier.

He added: “Journalists of Fata and Balochistan are in vulnerable condition, and they are forced by an agency to work for them.”

Asma Shirazi said that advertisements worth Rs8 billion were given to media houses, making it impossible to speak out against the federal and Punjab governments. She added that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had become a tool used to control the media.

Lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir, who moderated the event, read a resolution stating that Article 19 of the Constitution should be revisited, a standing committee on the protection of freedom of speech should be made, an alternative mechanism should be adopted to get rating of media houses and Pemra’s decisions need to be challenged.

Since the event took place on May 28, Kishwar Naheed recited a poem about her visit to Chagai to mark the occasion. In 1998, Pakistan officially became a nuclear power after a successful test in Chagai, Balochistan. In the poem, she recounts a conversation with a shepherd.

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