Undeclared censorship is stifling freedom of expression in Pakistan: Bilawal

Published May 3, 2019
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari says space for dissent is shrinking due to threats by "some who hold guns, and others who use religious text". — DawnNewsTV
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari says space for dissent is shrinking due to threats by "some who hold guns, and others who use religious text". — DawnNewsTV

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday said that "an undeclared censorship" is "stifling the freedom of expression" in Pakistan, and journalists are coming increasingly under threat from "state and non-state actors".

The PPP leader made those remarks during his speech at the Karachi Press Club to mark the World Press Freedom Day.

"There is an undeclared censorship in Pakistan," he said. "The space for democratic rights has dangerously shrunk in Pakistan. The International Press Freedom Day this year is observed in Pakistan when the media and the right to freedom of expression are under siege.

Read: On World Press Freedom Day, PM Imran warns against fake news

"Journalists are under attack both from state and non-state actors. Of the 26 journalists murdered between 2013 and 2018, only 16 cases proceeded to court, trials were only completed in six cases and only one conviction was awarded by a lower court. But none were punished as the sole conviction was also overturned.

Bilawal stressed the importance of the freedom of expression, even terming it "the mother of all human rights".

"Journalists and media persons as human rights defenders suffer the most when the freedom of expression is stifled," he said. "After the right to life, the most important right is the right of expression and the freedom of association because all other rights cannot even be articulated without it."

He spoke of the shrinking space for dissent in the country, saying: "lately, this right has come under increasing threat. Some people hold guns, others carry religious text in order to stifle and dissent and coerce free speech. Rights in the country are shrinking generally and journalists have been killed in the line of duty with impunity.

"Until recently, the freedom of expression was stifled secretly like the ban on Geo and Dawn in some areas of the country or by manipulating advertisements to force the media to tow a certain line. These tactics were also referred to in the recent Supreme Court verdict in the Faizabad Dharna case.

"Not there is open talk of bringing all media under one uniform body. Not long ago the government announced a crackdown on social media as well. The impunity of crimes against journalists and human rights defenders is a manifestation of the state curbing free expression and dissent."

Bilawal urged the government to legislate with a view to providing "safety and security" to journalists, and condemned the use of "economic strangulation as a new tool to curb" the freedom of expression.

He said that "the PPP rejects the move to set up a super regulatory body over all media in Pakistan as well as the manner in which the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016 has been misapplied to stifle dissent, constructive criticism and alternative narratives."

Opinion

Editorial

1971 in retrospect
Updated 28 Nov, 2022

1971 in retrospect

The point of no return came when the military launched Operation Searchlight in March 1971.
Gender-based violence
28 Nov, 2022

Gender-based violence

IT is a war without boundaries and seemingly without end. A UN report on femicide released on Nov 25, the...
Battle against dacoits
28 Nov, 2022

Battle against dacoits

THE Punjab police is clearly fighting a formidable, and so far losing, battle against the criminal gangs based in ...
Policy rate hike
Updated 27 Nov, 2022

Policy rate hike

The decision to hike the policy rate by 100bps is a step in the right direction, even if intended to appease the IMF.
Vawda’s reprieve
27 Nov, 2022

Vawda’s reprieve

FAISAL Vawda should be relieved. After years of running from a reckoning for submitting a false declaration in his...
Gujarat’s ghosts
27 Nov, 2022

Gujarat’s ghosts

TWO decades have passed since the bloody Gujarat riots, one of the worst spasms of anti-Muslim violence witnessed in...