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Lums students protest ‘academic censorship’

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The students condemned the cancellation of a roundtable on `Unsilencing Balochistan’—AFP/File
The students condemned the cancellation of a roundtable on `Unsilencing Balochistan’—AFP/File

LAHORE: The students and faculty of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on Thursday held a silent protest against ‘academic censorship’ imposed by the ‘state’ on the campus.

Carrying placards condemning the cancellation almost at the 11th hour of a roundtable on `Unsilencing Balochistan’ scheduled to be held on Thursday on the campus, the protesters also took a round of all the schools and departments on the campus before holding a demonstration in front of the main building.

The students and faculty members unanimously decided to wear black armband on the campus on Friday (today). They also decided to counter `in a decent way’ the malicious campaign launched on the social media against the university.

Also read: Silencing LUMS, resilencing Balochistan

Before peacefully dispersing, the protesters also played Balochi music.

Meanwhile, the LUMS management also admitted it received “orders from the government to cancel the event, which was most unfortunate indeed.”

A faculty member of LUMS, Dr Taimur Rehman told Dawn that two men from an official agency visited the campus on Wednesday evening. Since the vice-chancellor was not available, they handed over a letter to a senior faculty member regarding cancellation of the roundtable. “We even offered them to invite speakers of their choice but they said that the moot could be used to malign Pakistan and it must be cancelled,” said Dr Rehman.

The LUMS Students Council in a statement termed the cancellation “a gross violation of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of information, academic freedom and political pluralism.”

It said the event was academic in nature, featuring academics and activists involved in, or concerned by the situation in Balochistan. “A serious, informed, academic debate on Balochistan is not only important, it is urgently needed to address the issues that adversely affect the state of Pakistan today.

“After the Peshawar attack in December 2014, the government vowed to put Pakistan back on the track of the rule of law and the respect for human rights. Informed debate on the human rights issues affecting Pakistan is a precondition thereof. Sadly, today, the State did not allow this to happen,” said the statement.

Meanwhile, the LUMS management says it is committed to work with the government to find a way to allow the university to hold analytical talks on various topics that need to be debated in an objective and unbiased manner.

In this regard, under the re-mapping justice series, an event was scheduled for April 9 in line with the commitment of the entire LUMS community - faculty, staff, and students - to build a deeper understanding of our world, our region and our country. However, the event had to be cancelled on orders from the government,” said the LUMS management in a separate statement.

A joint statement by students said: “Today the students of LUMS gathered together at a time the talk `Unsilencing Balochistan’ was supposed to take place. Since we were not allowed to hold a roundtable, we did not hold a roundtable. Our guest speakers did not enter campus and we did not enter the talk venue.

“Instead, we were silent as directed. We silently listened to Balochi music in appreciation of one of the vibrant communities of Pakistan that gives so much to us in terms of art and culture.

“During the following days we will be wearing black arm bands around campus. We will be asking questions about Balochistan in classes. We will be continuing the social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook. We refuse to acknowledge that the state has any right to decided what we can or cannot say in our academic institution.

We wish to emphasize this protest does not indicate any singular stance on the issues in Balochistan. But we do protest the fact that we were not even allowed to discuss the issue, our right to access information was restricted, and we were not allowed to reach informed opinions on situation for ourselves--which is our right as students in a free and democratic society.

“We hope that students all over Pakistan will join us in pushing for unhindered freedom of speech and information on university campuses. It is the only way the youth of this country can be equipped to plan for a better future for ourselves and future generations who will grow up here.”

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2015

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