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Freedom of Expression in Pakistan- Fazal ur Rehman AFRIDI

Pakistani journalists, human rights advocates, and civil society are subjected to the most severe forms of repression by Pakistan’s military administration. Pakistan, according to reporters, is one of the world’s worst countries for freedom of expression. In Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is a complete media blackout. Journalists self-censor and are often ordered to remain silent by the government. Individuals are kidnapped, tortured, or killed by military secret agencies or their proxies, such as the Taliban. Many journalists, including Hamid Mir, Absar Alam, Mudassar Mahmood, and Matiullah Jan, have been forced to remain silent. Different methods are used to stifle our freedom of expression. Some of them are – blocking Facebook, Twitter accounts and also blocking websites that are considered to be against the interest of the state of Pakistan. A couple of weeks ago a website run by Alam Zeb Mehsood, a local person of PTM on missing persons was blocked by the Pakistan Tele-Communication authority because it was informing the world about the missing persons.

On other hand, PEMRA is used to force mainstream media, not to discuss issues that come under the ambit of security. Advertisements are also used as an arm to stop mainstream media to report issues considered taboo by the security establishment. Social media activists, particularly the members of PTM including me have been booked under the cybercrime’s ordinance.

Human rights activists and civil society are also targeted by the Pakistani government. Minority groups like as Pashtuns, Baloch, Kashmiris, and Sindhis are targeted in order to prevent them from expressing their opinions in print and on the internet.

I’d like to provide you with some facts and numbers on PTM activists who have been targeted by Pakistan’s Military Establishment due to arbitrary application of laws. Many PTM workers have been charged with fake offences to prevent them from expressing their opinions on social media. Even PTM’s highest leadership has been imprisoned because of their beliefs. Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen was held for 30 days on false allegations. Hundreds of FIRs have been filed against him in various parts of Pakistan, wasting his time and money. Ali Wazir, a Member of Parliament, is currently imprisoned on bogus and fabricated allegations. Daily, Hanif Pashteen and dozens of other PTM activists are harassed, intimidated, and tortured. To silence our top leaders and followers, the state assassinated Arman Luni, Sardar Arif Wazir, and SSP Tahir Dawar. Former Taliban Commander and Spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan stated to the media that a Brigadier of Pakistani Military Secret Service MI called Majid sent him a hit-list of PTM workers and supporters who were to be slain. I was included in the list of PTM Leaders who live in other countries.

Former Senator USMAN KAKAR, a prominent Pashtun leader and a rare voice for persecuted Pashtuns, was silenced by Pakistan’s Military Secret Services. On June 23, 2021, he died of injuries purportedly caused by an attack on him by MI officers. According to reports, four people were engaged in his murder, including a Major. They attempted to kidnap him at first, but when he refused, he was attacked and later died of his injuries. We are calling for an independent judicial investigation on his death and will present his case to the United Nations Working Group on Extrajudicial executions. Another Pashtun leader and provincial president of ANP Malak Ubaid ullah Kasi was forcibly disappeared on June 26, 2021. There are also thousands of Pashtuns from the Jani Khel area who are protesting the death of a tribal elder Malak Naseeb who was killed by the proxies of the Pakistan Army a month ago.

In this context, we have communicated with various UN Human Rights Council working groups and have submitted cases of enforced disappearances, intimidation, harassment, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions under special procedures. The UN Human Rights Council’s special working committees have effectively expressed our issues to Pakistan’s government.

On February 25, 2020, seven working groups under special procedures sent a letter(reference No- AL PAK 1/2020¬) to the government of Pakistan, expressing their concern about Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, the PTM leader’s, illegal detention and prosecution, as well as the illegal and disproportionate crackdown on peaceful PTM protestors in Bannu and Islamabad for Manzoor Pashteen’s release, in which more than 30 workers were arbitrarily arrested by Pakistani authorities. The letter asked a legal and factual basis for Manzoor Pashteen’s detention and charges, as well as an explanation of how these are in accordance with international human rights standards.

The names of the working groups are as follows –

  • Working Group on arbitrary detention
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Special Rapporteur on minority issues
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

On May 29, 2019, five working groups under special procedures sent a letter (reference No- UA PAK 4/2019) to government of Pakistan and expressed its concern regarding death threats to Gulalai Ismail and Sanna Ejaz. The Pashtun community, are unable to carry out their peaceful and legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment, free from any physical or other harassment.

The names of the working groups are – Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 36/6, 35/15, 34/18, 34/5 and 32/19.

On March 31, 2019, seven working groups under special procedures sent a letter (reference No- AL PAK 4/2021) to government of Pakistan, expressed its concern regarding illegal detention of Alam Zaib Mehsud, a local person of PTM; Ali Wazir PTM leader and Member of National Assembly of Pakistan; Idrees Khattak, a Human Rights Defender; Shereen ZADA, member of PTM Core Committee; Aqal Noor, who was killed at Lakki Marwat internment centre; Muhammad Ismail, father of Gulalai Ismail and HRD and the victim of collective torture by Pakistan Army at Shaktoi North Waziristan.

We will continue to raise our voice not only for PTM workers and Pashtun nation but all the oppressed entities of Pakistan including civil society, human rights activists and Journalists.

About the author:

Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi is currently the President of Paris based Think Tank, Khyber Institute for Research and Strategic Studies. He is also a Writer, Journalist and Human Rights Activist.