LAHORE: The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that received orders to shut down their offices because of their alleged involvement in ‘anti-state activities’ have thrown down the gauntlet to the government, challenging it to prove the allegation in court.

“We have challenged the order of the interior ministry and the Punjab home department to shut down our offices in the province in the Lahore High Court. We will prove the government’s mala fide [intentions] regarding action against us in the court,” Mohammad Tehseen, director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAPPK), told Dawn on Saturday.

The SAPPK has 11 offices in the country, four of which have been shut down temporarily in Punjab after being served notices by the government.

LHC Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will hear the case this coming Monday, while former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir will represent SAPPK.

Another NGO, Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE), which also received a similar order, is challenging the order in the LHC. “The allegation that our activities are against the country’s strategic security interests is baseless,” WISE executive director Bushra Khaliq told Dawn.

She said the police had harassed and stopped the WISE staff from working in three districts of Punjab. Both Mr Tahseen and Ms Khaliq see the government’s action as a step towards silencing the voice of civil society.

“The government is annoyed with those NGOs for raising their voice against violations of human rights and exposing it on the implementation of various treaties and conventions,” a rights activist told Dawn.

He said the government appeared prickly on these issues and wanted to set an example for others by taking strict action against a few NGOs.

In the case of SAPPK, the government has accused it of objectionable activities in south Punjab. “In south Punjab the SAPPK is pursuing anti-state agenda, accusing armed forces and law enforcement agencies of harassing workers and curtailing the freedom of action of NGO/INGOs. This NGO has prepared a shadow report of sharing with the UN Human Rights Commission presenting a very bleak picture of human rights in Pakistan forgetting directly the measures taken in the context of NAP and operation Zarb-i-Azb. Therefore you are not allowed to work,” Punjab Social Welfare Baitul Maal Layyah said in the notice.

Mr Tahseen told Dawn that the SAPPK had not written a report to the UNHRC.

“Besides, we would like to know what kind of anti-state activities the NGO is apparently involved in,” he said.

The Punjab government is often accused of not taking stern action against members of banned organisations in south Punjab. Earlier, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had requested deployment of Rangers in south Punjab.

Published in Dawn January 22nd, 2017