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Friday December 03, 2021

Indian, Pak govts curtailing freedom of expression: speakers

By Ali Raza
November 21, 2021
Indian, Pak govts curtailing freedom of expression: speakers

LAHORE: Senior journalists and human rights activists declared that both the governments of India and Pakistan were curtaining the freedom of expression and right to information by legitimising censorship.

These views were expressed by speakers at the Asma Jahangir Conference – Challenges to Human Dignity, held at a local hotel here on Saturday.

Senior journalist and co-host at a private news channel Zarrar Khuhro moderated the session. ‘Curtailing freedom of expression by legitimising censorship’ was discussed under the topic of ‘The right to dissent’.

Speakers from both sides of the borders also condemned refusal of visa to three key speakers of the session including Steven Butler (Asia Programme Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists), Vrinda Grover (Lawyer and human rights activist, India) and Jyoti Malhotra (Senior consulting editor of The Print, India).

These three speakers participated in the dialogue online while renowned Indian journalist Barkha Dutt also participated through video-link.

Various speakers including journalist Hamid Mir, anchorperson Munizae Jahangir, editor-in-chief of Voicepk.net & board member of AGHS Legal Aid Cell, and Christine Chung (South Asia team leader, office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Right) attended the session in person.

Christine Chung said that as per a report of Reporters Without Borders, 45 journalists were killed in 2021, out of which nine were from South Asian countries. She said the disturbing fact was that none of the murderers was punished so far. She said the media freedom was a must for a true democracy.

She said that India was curtailing freedom of expression by passing various laws, especially in [Indian-occupied] Kashmir.

Hamid Mir said he condemned those who did not issue visas to the above mentioned participants in the conference. He said media was not free in Pakistan. “Go to any village of the country and tell common people that media is free in Pakistan and he will laugh it out,” he said.

Mir said in 2021, Reporters Without Borders issued a list of names of 37 head of states who were curtailing media and the names of heads of state of Pakistan, India, Bangldesh and Sri Lanka were included in the list.

“Chief Justice of Pakistan in his address said that judiciary is free, but I disagree with his claim,” Hamid Mir said, adding that if judiciary was free then why the attackers of Asad Toor, Absar Alam and Matiullah Jan were still not arrested. He said the CJP would have to prove his statement with his judicial acts, he added.

Jyoti Malhotra from India said all those who were speaking in the conference and those who were attending it would be declared anti-state by their governments. “We should not give up,” she added.

She said in India the government was using UAPA laws (anti-terror laws) against journalists as well as common citizens for raising their voices over the atrocities. She said the governments of both India and Pakistan have to listen to the voices of their citizens and hoped that “one day we all will be sitting together in Lahore without a visa, just like Sikhs visiting Kartarpur without visa’.

Vrinda Grover from India said she was feeling sad for not being in Lahore physically. She said she had never visited Pakistan and she was very excited when she got invitation to the conference, but her visa was rejected.

“We will have to confront censorship by continuing to speak,” she said, adding that democracy was not just to cast a vote; it was giving rights to people. She said in India, Kashmir was facing the world’s longest blockage of internet. She said a Dalit reporter was treated differently. She said this would end only when people would start speaking and demanding their rights.

Renowned Indian journalist Barkha Dutt said that sedition was a colonial practice, which was being continued by the present governments. She said censorship laws have become the weapon of governments to curb media freedom.

Steven Butler (Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists) said that freedom of speech was one of the compulsory human rights and a free media was barometer to gauge that the right was given to the people or not.

Munizae Jahangir said that these days those who spoke the language of war were given visas and can travel anywhere in the world and those who spoke the language of peace were not allowed to travel. She said we gathered here for the dignity of the people as well as for the dignity of free media.

She said that the PMLN made PEKA [Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016] laws, and at that time all civil society organisations objected to those laws and told the government to stop that. And today, the PMLN was being trialled under the same law and cases of sedition were being registered against them.

Munizae Jahangir said that the government of Pakistan had already signed the UN resolutions regarding free media, right to speech and right to information, but in practical these rights were not given to people.