Jawad Ahmed silenced! No freedom of speech in Naya Pakistan?

News Analysis

Jawad Ahmed, a recognized musician, social activist and the chairman of the Barabari Party, was removed from an event on Thursday for speaking against the Prime Minister and his government.

The event was organized at the Faisalabad Arts Council, where Ahmed was invited as a guest speaker. While addressing the crowd at the gathering Jawad Ahmed said that both PM Imran Khan and former PM Nawaz Sharif criticized each other’s governments as being corrupt, which meant that so far the country could not be subjected to an honest and fair government.

As soon as Mr. Ahmed was done making these remarks, one of the organizers got up on stage and stopped him from addressing the crowd any further. After being rudely interrupted, Jawad Ahmed returned to his chair politely, after which he left the venue.

In a video that the singer later posted to Twitter, he said that he was invited in his capacity as a chairman of his political party.

Mr. Ahmed also said that he was there to talk about political speech, not participate in social media talks.

Recently, the Federal Investigation Authority’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing executed an investigation against certain journalists and political parties for allegedly starting “a targeted social media campaign” against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) during his visit to Pakistan.

Journalists and activists including Murtaza Solangi, Ammar Masood and Umar Cheema will be inquired upon, regarding their alleged social media campaign. In a tweet by Murtaza Solangi, he criticized the role of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in formulating such a request and inquiry to those who made comments regarding MBS. In the same tweet, Solangi calls the PTI government “shameless creatures” for having a problem with displaying pictures of slain journalist, Jamal Khashoggi on social media.

Journalist and activist, Aima Khosa responded to the situation by asking three simple questions. The apt questions that she asked were:

1. Did MBS check Twitter, feel disrespected and convey his sentiments to the Pakistani leadership?

2. Is this government so weak that it can be made to look bad by a mere change of a profile picture?

3. Is there no difference between the activists and journalists mentioned?

The Invisible Hand

Both news stories mentioned above relate to the same point. Censorship. The government of Pakistan  is considered a democracy. Isn’t freedom of speech and expression part of the constitutional right of everyone in the country? Isn’t everyone free from censorship in a “democratic government’? And, isn’t everyone entitled to their own opinions?

Well, apparently not. Considering the current situation that has unfolded, regarding the FIA, it seems as though all are in and will be in trouble if their opinions do not match the views of the government.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time people have used their authority and influence to infringe upon the basic rights of the public and their views. In the past strict action has been taken against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and its members. In February, PTM member Arman Loni was killed in a ‘police crackdown’ against the movement. PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen has also been arrested in the past by the police for damaging the “military morale” through his human rights campaigns.

Under the banner of so-called democracy there has been immense censorship against those who have spoken in contradiction of or disagreed with the political views of the state. The shroud of democracy that apparently covers the country is so weak that it can be dismantled at any time by the tweets and protests of a few people.

PM Imran Khan seeks a progressive Pakistan, where everyone is equal and treated fairly, however, the ‘equality-memo’ was completely ignored by certain individuals and people. The actions as shown by agencies like the FIA are representative of a totalitarian regime where free thought is looked down upon.

What needs to be done here is that people need to be allowed to express themselves in a manner, shape or form that they deem fit. At the same time, strict action and censorship should only be taken against those who pose a direct threat to the security and sovereignty of Pakistan, or people directly targeting or harassing an individual. Anti-Pakistan forces or banned outfits should be expelled if they destroy the sanctity of the country, however, activists and journalists hold a position where they can criticize certain aspects of the country and therefore, should not be condemned in such a manner.

If anything, Pakistan is not in danger from people like Jawad Ahmed or those listed by the FIA document but instead are in danger from people who belong to outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Let us hope that we can move as a progressive country where opinions do not mean the end of democracy and that we can stick together as a nation despite the small differences that we have.

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