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December 3, 2019

Sedition charges


December 3, 2019

The statement by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, that he supported the return of student unions to campuses provided that violence could be contained and the hallmarks of good leadership taught, is a positive one. This is something we hope is followed through. Certainly, the positivity matches the tone and tenor of the student marches which took place in 60 cities of Pakistan on Friday, the largest of them in Lahore. During the rallies, students, academics and activists raised slogans demanding that the rights of students be protected and that the 35-year-old ban on student unions be removed.

However, what happened in the aftermath of what was a hugely positive movement in a country that desperately needs to find new leadership and new vigour was horrifying. FIRs were registered against at least 250 to 300 of the marchers, and one student was reported to first go ‘missing’ and then found in state custody. Those nominated in the FIRs include students, professors and rights activists, as well as the late Mashal Khan’s father Iqbal Lala. The FIRs say that the students were promoting sedition.

In an ideal world, or in a truly democratic country, we should be backing these young people who care enough for their nation to walk out on the streets and demand rights for tens of thousands of young people across the country who face difficulties while obtaining an education. Most horrifying of all is the sedition case brought against the elderly Iqbal Lala, whose son was beaten and then shot to death at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan in 2017. Rather than giving up hope, Iqbal Lala since then has stood by young people, as he did on Friday and called for their rights to be protected even though these were denied to his son who is no longer with us.

We need to stop treating anyone who seeks their rights as enemies. We should be proud of our young people who raise a voice against the wrong they have suffered. Instead, they are being depicted as some kind of evil force. If the simple act of marching, demanding rights and raising slogans is a crime we are in a very sorry state. If a man whose son was lynched to death is considered a threat to the state then our future looks very bleak indeed. As political leaders have pointed out in the past, the constitution gives every person the right to association. The ban on student unions is a violation of this right. In fact, more sections of society need to come out and support our youth. Those like Iqbal Lala did so only to have an FIR made out against him. If we are not even able to determine right from wrong we will simply fall into a greater state of decay. These young people have attempted to stop the decay. For that they must be encouraged, not incarcerated.

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