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Curbs on freedom of expression encourage militants: Babar

By Asim Yasin
August 30, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Senator Farhatullah Babar Tuesday said that inability to hold security forces accountable in operations against violent extremism can result in alienating the affected people and directly play into the hands of militants and extremists.

Addressing a seminar on countering violent extremism organised by the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) here Tuesday, Senator Farhatullah Babar said the misuse of cyber crimes laws against bloggers and journalists had also stifled the freedom of expression and prevented alternate narrative against violent extremism. "Respect for the right of freedom of expression is basic to countering the extremists' narrative," he said.

He said human rights served as a pivot whether kinetic military action against militants or in the development of alternate narrative against their narrative. “Inability to hold security forces accountable has been demonstrated in the state's inability in the case of agencies allegedly responsible for enforced disappearances,” he said.

Farhatullah Babar said the Senate Human Rights Committee was horrified to learn recently that no relative of over 50 mutilated bodies of missing persons found dumped came forward to lodge FIR. “This was a measure of the alienation of the people from the state and society and the criminal justice system. This deafening silence of the affected families conceals a turbulence that can sweep everything,” he warned.

He said to fight militant mindset we need to build intellectual infrastructure that rests on the foundations of free inquiry and free debate not only in academic institutions but as a way of life.

However, he said while freedom of expression is threatened the militants have a field day to propagate hate speech and extremist ideology.  “In the name of national security the right to freedom of expression has often been stifled”, he said, citing the example of the arrest of a journalist in Quetta after he posted on his face book a query about the commissions paid to FC by coal miners. "Crushing space for dissent and stifling freedom of expression by the state encourages the militants' to stifle dissent of their narrative," he added. He said extremist mindset cannot be fought militarily; it can be fought by building an intellectual infrastructure.

Babar said the state's abdication of its responsibility towards the rights of citizens creates a void which is filled by charity wings of militant non-state actors whether in providing education, relief in disaster situations serving as force multiplier for the militants' narrative.

As for the Parliament, he said, it can make laws but not implement them,” adding that the Parliament made the law in 2013 forbidding banned organisations from resurrection and asked why it was not being implemented.