Thousands of journalists, activists and members of civil society in Pakistan demonstrate to protect the right to liberty, revealing how the government is cracking down on dissenting voices on social media.
Since the beginning of Imran Khan’s government, journalists and activists in Pakistan have not only fought for freedom of expression, but various means have been used to suppress their dissent.
In August, Pakistan’s Digital Media Wing released an in-depth analysis report based on the compilation of hashtags that the government considers anti-state. Current media asked the CEO of Tweepsmap Samir Al-Battran if the analysis of the report is authentic because he used their app service. Samir told them, “The government of Pakistan is not allowed to use our service. We will investigate how they accessed our analysis.
After reading the report, activists, journalists and members of the opposition took to social media to share the “flaws” they found in the report, subjecting it to harsh criticism. Opposition leader Shahid Khan Abbasi called the report “shoddy, misleading and based on assumptions“.
“If enacted, it will erase all critical voices from print, electronic and digital platforms through a system of coercive censorship that will only allow flexible media to survive.”
Currently, the Pakistani government is considering proposing an anti-media bill to further crush free speech. If enacted, it will erase all critical voices from print, electronic and digital platforms through a system of coercive censorship which will only allow flexible media to survive.
Thousands of journalists, members of civil society demonstrate to protect the right to liberty. Journalists and activists have experienced harassment every time they speak out about a particular issue.
From unemployment to inflation, from the fight against the pandemic to instability, the current government has faced crisis after crisis in Pakistan, but it seems to try to stifle any form of criticism. The attacks on journalists and political activists critical of the state’s harsh policies, the crackdown on students demanding their rights, and the sedition charges against human rights defenders, show how the current regime is fueling the culture of silence.
“The more positive reporting you do, the easier it is for you to survive. Critical voices become invisible in this environment.”
Sumaira Ashraf, a video journalist currently working with DW Urdu, has spoken out on gender issues. Having 10 years of experience working with multimedia publications, she believes that “critical journalism is impossible in our country”.
“We have to follow the rules of social media and if the government thinks a video is against a department it will be removed. The more ‘positive reporting’ you do, the easier it is for you to survive. Critical voices become invisible in this environment, “she states.
“There was no stakeholder involved in the implementation of social media rules. Why don’t you take the opinion of journalists into account when setting regulations for them? You make laws for us and you don’t even consider our contribution, ”Sumaira adds.
Fatima Razzaq is currently working for Sujaag Media as an investigative journalist. As well as being a critical voice, she covers religious minorities, gender issues and human rights in Pakistan.
She explains how critical the past few years have been for journalists in Pakistan and instead of improving it, she thinks the government is making matters worse. “The muzzling of the media has been around for a long time,” says Fatima. “Most people have used digital media that way. Many young people now write for international platforms because their ideas are not taken up by national platforms.
She goes on to explain how the government is trying to silence more emerging voices in the disguise of a regulatory framework. “The problem is, we don’t need a regulatory framework, we need media reforms,” Fatima explains. “These reforms could look like unions, organizations, digital dissent journalism while still allowing dissenters to be part of the press club. In the current landscape, there are so many restrictions on freedom of thought that people ordinary people are now afraid. ”
Ammar Ali Jan is a historian and member of the Haqooq-e-Khalq movement, which describes itself as a “progressive movement for democracy in Pakistan”. Ammar has denounced the injustices in society and despite several threats and accusations of sedition, Ammar says he “continues to work for the betterment of society”.
“It is also encouraging to see multiple nodes of resistance emerging in Pakistan. Students, journalists, teachers, lawyers and other civil society activists are building resistance from below.
He believes the in-depth analysis report is part of the discourse against human rights defenders and dissidents across the country. “The current government has popularized the notion of a so-called ‘fifth generation war’ against Pakistan in which it claims that the real danger to the country’s sovereignty lies in the ‘fifth chroniclers’ within the country who are involved in the propaganda against the government. This implies that all those who defend the sanctity of the Constitution and the right to dissent are seen as enemy agents, thus removing them from the legitimate political community, ”Ammar said.
“However, as the government seeks to quell dissent, it is also heartening to see multiple nodes of resistance emerging in Pakistan. Students, journalists, teachers, lawyers and other civil society activists are building resistance from below. Pakistan is too big and too diverse to be completely crushed by an incompetent hybrid regime. I think people will continue to voice their dissent and eventually defeat this hybrid regime, “he concludes.
Saba Chaudhary is a freelance journalist and activist based in Pakistan. She reports on human rights and gender issues.
Follow her on Twitter: @SaBa_Ch_