THE manner in which certain political commentators active on social media have been targeted in recent days is condemnable. The tactic has been taken from an old playbook: random citizens suddenly come forth to accuse various individuals, whom the state sees as ‘undesirables’, of serious crimes. In this case, FIRs have been lodged against Sabir Shakir, Moeed Pirzada, Shaheen Sehbai, Wajahat Saeed Khan and others — all prominent critics of the current regime — for allegedly inciting individuals to mutiny, among other charges. In each case, the complaint is sufficiently vague to be able to create significant difficulties for the people accused, but is very unlikely to stand under scrutiny. That is unlikely to matter to the complainants though, as the intent behind the flurry of cases appears to be to intimidate rather than prosecute. The state has long favoured this tactic to harass journalists and politicians. In such cases, even a cursory look at the police report usually reveals that the charges are likely grossly exaggerated, if not outright fabricated. The complaints are never properly investigated, but are used as a hanging sword over the people they target.
However, what seems more likely to happen this time is that law-enforcement agencies may use these accusations as a pretext to harass these individuals’ families in a bid to ‘send a message’. Unfortunately, complaints regarding this sort of ‘collective punishment’ have become all too common amidst the crackdown on the PTI and its sympathisers since May 9. With the state appearing hell-bent on cutting the party to size, there is no knowing what new excesses it is willing to commit. These commentators may have used intemperate or incendiary language, but the right way to counter this would have been to challenge them under the appropriate laws after due process. Unfortunately, our state appears too wedded to its fear tactics to bother to think out of the box for once.
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2023