LAHORE: The organisers of Asma Jahangir conference on Sunday rejected the government’s allegations of following any partisan agenda.
The third conference held in the provincial capital last week generated a lot of debate with the ruling PTI government pointing an accusing finger at the organisers.
According to a news release, the conference was put together as a result of months of voluntary work by its committee setting out a wide agenda on critical areas of human rights currently under challenge in Pakistan. The conference was co-organised by the Asma Jahangir (AJ) Foundation, Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.
There were total 21 sessions addressing the following areas: The Right to Dissent, The Afghan Crisis and its Impact, Conflict in Kashmir: bypassing Kashmiris, No Justice in Justifying: Violence Against Women, Rights of the Child, Freedom of Religion and Belief, State of the Economy, and Challenges to Restoring Democracy in Pakistan.
Reiterate no one was invited in violation of law
As per the traditions, the AJ Foundation said, the closing speech at the conference was delivered by PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif as PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Minister for Human Rights Shirin Mazari had delivered the closing speeches at the first conference in 2018 and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at the second conference in 2019.
According to the press release, all the three conferences provided a platform for stakeholders, including politicians from all major and regional parties, to speak openly on issues impacting the rule of law and protection of fundamental freedoms.
The AJ Foundation vehemently rejected the claims that the conference furthered any partisan agenda and noted that no such allegations were made at earlier conferences when Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Mr Gilani had delivered the closing speeches.
The foundation said several prominent members of the ruling PTI had been invited to the conferences, many of whom spoke at all the three conferences while others declined the invitation. It reiterated that no one was invited to speak at the conference in violation of any law.
The organisers said the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority had banned certain categories of individuals from being broadcast on television, but no such prohibition was placed on these individuals addressing public gatherings in general.
Indeed, the foundation added, former PM Nawaz Sharif had addressed gatherings previously and it was entirely regrettable, not to say embarrassing, that internet cables were disabled to black out his speech. “This act in itself is an indication of the state of freedom of expression in the current regime where Pakistan is ranked 145 out of 180 countries.”
The AJ Foundation said it stood firmly by civil society in Pakistan to protect universal principles of human rights without fear or favour. “We will not follow vendettas of political parties when inviting speakers and will remain an open and uncensored platform for diverse voices across the political spectrum.”
It added: “It is the unanimous position of almost all bar councils that every person, including an absconder, has the right to freedom of expression and this right is enshrined in our Constitution. To brand the event as engaging in party politics is disappointing and no such claims were made at previous conferences where opposition leaders delivered the closing address.”
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021