Geo News suspension attack on freedom of expression: top NGOs

KARACHI: Top representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs) have said the basic human rights have continuously been at stake in the country due to various deplorable incidents, taking place recently as well as during the past many years.

Addressing a joint press conference at Karachi Press Club on Friday, they said that such incidents had worsened human rights situation in the country, as curbs had been imposed on people’s freedom of expression during this period.

They regretted that the cable operators kept suspended the transmission of famous news channel, Geo News, for many weeks in major parts of the country for unknown reasons. “We believe it is a direct attack on the press freedom in the country,” they said and demanded the government authorities ensure protection of people’s right to gathering, unionisation, delivery of speech, acting on religious beliefs and basic human rights.

Those speaking at the conference included: Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Karamat Ali, Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee Convener Habibuddin Junaidi, Dr Riaz Sheikh, the head of social sciences at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), Aurat Foundation Director Mehnaz Rehman, Democratic Students Federation’s Naghma Iqtidar, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Jamil Junejo, and Trade Union’s head Jannat Gul.

Karamat Ali and other speakers told the press conference that restrictions were in still place on the right to assembly and freedom of speech at educational institutions. They said it was a matter of concern that a planned seminar was stopped at the Habib University at the last moment and misbehaviour with the guests invited to the programme.

He said seminars and declamation contests were not being allowed on campus in universities in various parts of the country. The faculty members supporting right to expression were either sacked or some disciplinary actions were taken against them. He regretted that despite various announcements made since 2008, student unions have not been restored at educational institutions of the country.

He said a professor was sacked at the Punjab University on the charges of “promoting critical thinking among students.” Almost all speakers said they were concerned over imposition of curbs on the right to expression in the country. The cable operator in major parts of the country recently kept suspended famous news channel, Geo News, for weeks for unknown reasons. “This is a direct attack on the freedom of press in the country,” they said.

They said Pakistan has a long history of fight for freedom of expression and speech. Once again, the mass media is facing various restrictions with impunity. The speakers expressed serious concerns that some political leaders having a particular approach were being targeted, and restrictions were being imposed on their basic rights including their right to expression.

They said all institutions should respect each other. They expressed their concerns over the trend of targeting political and social movements. They condemned the arrest of Younas Iqbal – the founder of tenants’ movement in Punjab – and said registration of bogus cases and including terrorism charges against him were a deplorable act. They said it seems that no lessons had been learnt from the past and peaceful citizens were being declared as terrorists.

They said there had been an increase in the attacks on people and minorities in different parts of the country, as they cited the death of the Christian community members in Quetta and Punjab.

The NGO leaders said a negative image of Pakistan was already being portrayed around the world and the government must, therefore, ensure the right to life and arrest those involved in such incidents. They also called for paying compensation to the victim families.

They also said that many political and social activists had been missing and their families were suffering socially, psychologically and financially. The families had no information about their loved ones and they were not getting any relief through law. The speakers said it was human tragedy and a commission set up in this regard had been unable to show satisfactory performance. The demanded either commission’s abolition or its reformation so that it functions effectively under new leadership. They also demanded right to be heard and implementation of law should be ensured.

They said that the government was going to complete its term and the new elections were around the corner. They demanded a grand dialogue to ensure basic liberties. They said they would hold consultative meetings with all major political parties soon.

The News