Pakistan would be better off recalling Jinnah’s speeches on the freedom of the press and his speeches that called for protecting journalists doing their duty rather than his promise to protect minorities
Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain in an address to a joint session of the country’s parliament remarked that the
The viewpoint of the government on minorities is the same as the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
He went on to say
that protection of the religious places of minorities is the responsibility of the government, adding that the government will do everything it can to protect their right to religious freedom.
It makes a person wonder how detached the president is from the current realities in Pakistan. Was the president made aware of the blasphemy laws that makes it a criminal offence to defame anything Islamic or the Ordinance XX that declared all Ahmadi’s as non-muslims and any Ahmadi found practicing Islam could be imprisoned? Was the president made aware of the genocide against Shia’s being openly carried out by radical outfits who have the protection of the government? Was the president made aware of the kill and dump policies against Balochs being carried out by the frontier corps?
Earlier this year I pointed out that
Known reports puts the number of people charged with Blasphemy Law at 1,274 (1986 – 2010), with 51 people murdered even before the completion of their trial. Human rights Watch reports that as of January 2014, 16 people remained on death row and 20 serving life sentences. They have taken the lives of a Punjab Governor and Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities in 2011. The laws have also made victims out of girls as young as 11 and 14 and have served as a free ticket to radical mobs that go on rampages, torching entire villages and burning people alive.
All this had taken place with the full consent of the government and the law. It was after all this president’s predecessor who refused to amend the blasphemy law. That the civilian population are not made aware about a lot of these issues or are threatened to live in ignorance is not surprising.
The President though should have been aware. He is after all heading a country where most of these incidents have become so commonplace that they never make it to the front pages. He presides over a state that actively supports the suppression and systematic execution of minorities without any compunction. He runs a state which dictates what can and what cannot make news. He remains the president of a country whose fourth estate is walking the plank with the military and the ISI and the extremist organizations cheering them on.
The ignorance or fantastical alternate reality that the president lives should be seen as a byproduct of the muzzled and debilitated media; the product of journalists hounded, tortured and killed for reporting on stories that are meant to be beyond consumption. Pakistan in the past decade alone has become one the worst places to be a journalist. With 34 cases of journalists being killed since 2008, and with attacks on well known journalists like Hamid Mir, and Raza Rumi in the past few months, the situation is becoming worse. For a national newspaper to cower down and issue a public apology to the intelligence agency and the military, is an indication of who really controls the airwaves and who dictates the content of the news. The open threats, attacks and murders against journalists and news organizations being carried out by various extremist organizations without fear of being caught has become commonplace since the beginning of this year.
The ISI, the military jihadi complex, the government, are all equally complicit in blacking out content. News about minorities, provincial unrest such as those in Balochistan, killing and dumping of minorities, reports of terrorist outfits calling for violence against minorities, people abducted and missing because of allegiance are all taboo topics. None of these issues will find a substantial amount of space either in the news, or the media reports or make a dent in the courts that are supposed to uphold minority rights. The descent to chaos, fed by purposeful ignorance and a remorseless state is a sign of the extent of rot that has set into the country that Jinnah imagined.
It would perhaps behoove the President and the state to remember a couple of other Jinnah’s speeches…One of them immediately after the 1910 press act was passed
“I do not wish for a single moment that any culprit who is guilty of sedition, who is guilty of causing disaffection, who is guilty of causing race hatred, should escape, but at the same time I say, protect the innocent, protect those journalists who are doing their duty and who are serving both the public and the government by criticising the government freely, independently, honestly, which is an education for any government.”
and one of them to the Calcutta session of the All-India Muslim League in December 1917
“Instead of government meeting the complaints of the people, what do they do in the country? They want to muzzle you. They say we shall pass a Press Act. If you write anything, we will, they say, strangle you. They have passed the Seditious Meeting Act to stop meetings of the people. Is this really the method by which you can continue governing the people? Is it possible for any statute to destroy the soul of the people?”
The future for journalists, media and the press remain bleak at best and chillingly horrific at best. The detachment of the president from the realities on the ground represents the worst of the puppet governments that often act as the face for military-jihadi complex that works from behind the scenes. His invocation of Jinnah’s promise to minorities at this juncture only sounds hollow and serves a mocking reminder of the country that was imagined.