Silenced voices

Published February 29, 2024

THE state suddenly seems to be acting more loyal than the king as far as respect for the judiciary is concerned. The Monday arrest of Islamabad-based journalist, Asad Ali Toor, by the FIA on the charge of running a “malicious campaign” against the superior judiciary has disturbed media practitioners across the country. Many in Pakistan’s media community had feared that Mr Toor was inviting the ire of powerful forces over his unabashed and often confrontational commentary on alleged state excesses in recent days. His persistent criticism of a Supreme Court decision that denied the PTI the use of its ‘bat’ symbol during the elections has now been used as the premise to detain him. Mr Toor is not the only vocal public figure to have been ‘silenced through the law’ in recent days. A few days before his arrest, anchorperson Imran Riaz was also picked up and later remanded to judicial custody on charges of ‘corruption’. A sympathiser of the PTI, Mr Riaz appears to have upset certain quarters by continuing his unyielding criticism of the political status quo and the role of unelected elements in shaping it.

It is telling of how little faith the country, in general, places in the legal system that the charges brought against both gentlemen seem immaterial to many. The prevailing perception is that both Mr Toor and Mr Riaz have been ‘removed’ from the picture because they were offending powerful people. This perception has been strengthened by the fact that the respective charges brought against both individuals are vague and seem insufficient to require that they be detained before they have been given a hearing in a court of law. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the Pakistani state has made such a mockery of fundamental rights that the arbitrary deprivation of basic liberties is now considered par for the course. The silencing of critical voices began in earnest during the PTI government and has not let up since then. Though a large part of the mainstream media might have ceded to pressure, the crop of independent commentators on social media sharing their ‘subversive’ thoughts with millions is a fresh headache for oppressive elements. Their goal is obvious: silence all dissent. The judiciary itself did not demand an explanation from Mr Toor. So, why should the FIA burden itself with the task?

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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