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May 4, 2019

Press freedom facing undeclared curbs: Bilawal

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May 4, 2019

KARACHI: Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Friday that there is unannounced restrictions on the freedom of press.

He said that without implementing court order regarding Faizabad dharna (sit-in), the rule of law would remain be a far cry. The PPP chairman stated this on Friday while addressing a programme organized by the Karachi Union of Journalists at the Karachi Press Club to mark the World Press Freedom Day.

He called for pursuing and implementing the Supreme Court’s verdict in Faizabad Dharna case in letter and spirit to secure freedom of press and fight back all attacks on democracy in Pakistan.

“The Supreme Court’s verdict had said that the Pemra has failed to protect the legitimate rights of the broadcasters,” said the PPP chairman on the occasion. “Media persons, human rights defenders, labour unions, together should take this decision forward by demanding its implementation. Not only we can pursue freedom of press but we can also fight back against assaults on democracy in Pakistan, we can also address the elephant in the room,” he said. “There are enough references in the decision to our constitution, to democracy, for us to finally change the elephant in the room,” he said.

He lamented the crimes against journalists and human rights’ activists are taking place with complete impunity. “Until recently freedom of expression was stifled secretly like the ban on Geo and Dawn in some areas of the country or manipulating advertising to force the media to tow a certain line. These tactics were also referred to in recent Supreme Court verdict in Faizabad dharna case,” he said. “The PPP rejects economic strangulation of journalists as a new tool to stifle freedom of expression and dissent in Pakistan,” said Bilawal. “There is an undeclared censorship in Pakistan. Space for democratic rights has been dangerously shrunk in Pakistan. Journalists are under attack both from state and non-state actors,” Bilawal said. The PPP chairman lamented that 26 journalists were killed in Pakistan during last five years from 2013 to 2018 . All these 26 murders turned out to be blind murders at the end of the day.

Of these only 16 were sent to courts, but the trial was completed only in six cases, while the verdict was announced in one case only by a lower court and later on even this verdict was also overturned, he said. The PPP Chairman urged the present government to enact a fresh legislation to end impunity in crimes being committed against journalists. He said similarly fresh legislation should be passed to protect and recognize human rights defenders in the country.

He said a separate parliamentary body should be established to ensure freedom of expression in Pakistan.

The PPP chairman urged the government to revisit and amend the Pakistan Electronic Crimes’ Act (PECA)-2016 in view of the experiences of implementing this act during the last two years. Bilawal said all the investigative agencies should report to Parliament after every six months about all the probes under PECA-2016. He lamented that PECA-2016 was being enforced to stifle dissent, constructive criticism, and alternative narratives in Pakistan.

“The PPP also rejects setting up of a super regulatory authority to control all forms of media in Pakistan,” said Bilawal. He also rejected the crackdown against non-governmental organizations in Pakistan as this way the state was shutting down its necessary dialogue with the citizens. He said often democratic freedoms and freedom of expression were curbed under the pretext that the “Rest of the world is conspiring against us”. “But we must understand that by taking such undue steps, we are conspiring against ourselves,” he said.

The PPP chairman also condemned the censorship and crackdown against freedom of expression on the social media against democratic norms. He said that human rights in the country could not be ensured without ensuring and protecting of freedom of expression in Pakistan, which is under grave threat.

On the occasion, I A Rehman said that Pemra is there for electronic media and for social media there are anti-cyber crimes laws. Mehmood Sham said there is neither leadership of 21st century nor media.

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