German ambassador’s speech at rights conference in Lahore interrupted by pro-Palestine protester

Published April 27, 2024
Germany’s ambassador to Pakistan Alfred Grannas speaking at the 5th Asma Jahangir Confrere in Lahore on April 27, 2024. —Photo via Voicepk.net
Germany’s ambassador to Pakistan Alfred Grannas speaking at the 5th Asma Jahangir Confrere in Lahore on April 27, 2024. —Photo via Voicepk.net

A pro-Palestine protester on Saturday interrupted and chanted slogans during the German ambassador’s speech on civil rights at a conference in Lahore.

Germany’s Ambassador to Pakistan Alfred Grannas was speaking at the 5th Asma Jahangir Conference titled ‘People’s Mandate: Safeguarding Civil Rights in South Asia’.

Announced by the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS), the two-day conference is being organised in collaboration with the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).

Just moments after the ambassador began his speech, the protester can be heard saying, “Excuse me, Mr Ambassador. I am shocked by the audacity that you are here to talk about civil rights while your country is brutally abusing the people speaking for the rights of the Palestinians.”

His comments drew applause and cheer from the crowd, while chants of “Free, Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea” could be heard.

Grannas immediately acknowledged his comments, saying: “If you want to shout, go out, there you can shout. Because shouting is not a discussion.”

A livestream of the event muted Grannas’ comments after that and then disabled the livestream for a few minutes.

The Progressive Students Collective (PSC) said its members had “exposed the hypocrisy of German ambassador” by questioning him on the role of Germany in the deaths in Gaza. It also lashed out at the conference organisers, saying they had “forcefully silenced the voices of students while platforming the facilitators of Pal[estinian] gen[ocide]”.

It alleged that the organisers “assaulted the students and peeled their skin off”.

As Grannas resumed his speech, he remarked that the “mother of all basic human rights is the protection of human dignity”, as well as the inviolability of human dignity.

“This actually brings [Germany] in commonality with Pakistan, because there are not too many countries in the world that have an explicit guarantee of the inviolability of human dignity,” he said, referencing Article 14 of Pakistan’s Constitution.

“When it comes to the role of the judiciary here, the Constitution guarantees the rights. But it’s the courts that interpret, safeguard and develop further those rights,” Grannas said.

He noted that the most important rule of the judiciary is safeguarding rights and preventing the rule of law from being substituted with the rule by law.

He also noted that the judiciary must not only protect rights on paper but put them into practice.

Grannas praised Pakistan’s courts for interpreting the law to the people’s benefit, saying, “a very concrete example is that there is no [compulsion] in attesting in criminal procedures.”

He also noted that the court’s interpretation of Article 14 led to the ending of the “infamous two-finger testing in rape cases.”

“So you see, these things have concrete consequences and positive effects on us all.”

The ambassador acknowledged the importance of conferences like these, stating that courts do not operate in a vacuum.

“Courts need input; courts need inspiration. And these intellectual and academic discussions here, the things that are developed here serve for the courts to draw inspiration,” Grannas said.

He noted that the results of these academic writings are used and incorporated in the court’s ruling when protecting and developing basic human rights

“I think it’s a useful exercise that we are here, and I wish us all fruitful discussions,” the ambassador concluded.

The first edition of the conference was held in 2018, following the death of renowned lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir. The conference aims to highlight her legacy through panel discussions on fundamental rights, independence of the judiciary, empowerment of marginalised communities, freedom of expression and regional solidarity.

Criticism of ambassador’s actions

The ambassador’s action triggered criticism on social media as academic Nida Kirmani lent support to the PSC for calling out the participation of the German envoy at the conference. “No place for the representative of a country enabling genocide at a human rights conference. He’s the one who should have been removed,” she said.

“How dare he tells protesters to ‘Get out’. This is not Germany, excellency. We will protest against your unconditional support to the Gaza genocide,” said former Dawn editor Abbas Nasir on the exchange.

“German ambassador to Pakistan lecturing Pakistanis about free speech while German government bans any discussion on Gaza. Students who spoke up during this speech were dragged and beaten up. Shame!” said Lahore-based academic and activist Ammar Ali Jan.

Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen Pakistan Chairman Senator Allama Raja Nasir said the “brazen attempt to silence protesters and shut down dissenting voices is outrageous and deeply alarming.”

He added: “Germany’s systematic suppression of pro-Palestinian voices … exposes a shameful bias and undermines the very foundations of democratic discourse.”

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