Pakistan Resolution was a culmination of several years of struggle for freedom. Striving for independent states, the Resolution of 23rd March 1940 called for the provision of rights of minorities in the subcontinent. By its very essence, this landmark document makes a case for civil liberties. This concise document clearly chalks out the need for constitutional rights of “Mussalmans” and “other minorities” in India. Freedom of expression is, therefore, enshrined in the spirit of the Lahore Resolution or the Pakistan Resolution, as it was called later.

The last section of the Resolution states: “the adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities.” The minorities at that time included Muslims. These safeguards were to ensure the protection of “religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests” of Muslims and other minorities. Going by the aforementioned excerpts, it becomes evident that the right to freedom of speech can be derived from the Pakistan Resolution.

Pakistan Resolution was a precursor to the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan and the essential freedoms mentioned in the Resolution have been translated into the Constitution. Regarding freedom of speech and expression, Article 19 of the Constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and the protection of that right. The roots of this Article can be traced to the freedom movement and Pakistan Resolution. According to the Article 19, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression. It also guarantees freedom of press and media.

It is important to understand the context of the Resolution and the events preceding the All-India Muslim League general session held on March 22-24, 1940. The rights and liberties of Muslims were suppressed by the Hindu majority as well as the British rule. Being a minority, Muslims were oppressed in cultural, political, economic and administrative fields of life. Freedom, liberty, and independence were the demands of Muslims as they fought for their rights. It is only with the freedom of expression that the oppressed can raise the voice of dissent against the oppressors. As such, the freedom movement and the ensuing Lahore Resolution have the freedom of speech, expression, and the right to dissent at their very core.

Since the inception of Pakistan, freedom of speech and press have been stifled at many times. In opposition to the spirit of the Resolution, there has been a struggle for the freedom of expression in Pakistan over the years.  During the 72 years of Pakistan’s existence, whether it be democracy or dictatorship, the voice of dissent has often been suppressed. In contrast to the Resolution that called for individual and civil liberties, and freedom of speech being an essential liberty, toleration of difference of opinion has been remarkably low.

Pakistan has constantly ranked low on various freedom indexes and reports. As per the 2019 report on freedom of expression and press by the Reporters Sans Frontiers or Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Pakistan ranks at 142 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Pakistan was on the 139th position in 2018 but the ranking deteriorated in 2019. According to the organisation, the intervention of military in media as the electoral process took place was against independent journalism. Various other independent sources and non-profit organizations have also highlighted the hurdles and challenges to the freedom of expression. Considering the very roots of this nation and going back to the Pakistan Resolution, one finds such restrictions in contradiction to the freedoms the founding fathers fought for.

In Pakistan, freedom of speech remains a constant target by the rulers. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2019, the government continues to stifle dissenting voices in non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Furthermore, the report also indicates that militants and interest groups are also a threat to freedom of expression. Various bloggers, journalists, and proponents of free speech have been targeted in Pakistan and these human rights violations have been well documented. Such acts are in direct opposition to the freedoms enshrined in the Pakistan Resolution and the Constitution of Pakistan.

Given the challenges to the freedom of speech and expression, the Pakistan Resolution can indeed serve as a blueprint. The minority groups and those on the periphery should be allowed a voice in society. The founders of this nation fought for the rights and freedoms of minorities of that time and that is reflected in the basic documents and pre-independence speeches of leaders like Quaid-i-Azam.

Over the last couple of decades, the situation regarding freedom of speech and expression has certainly improved in Pakistan. That being said, some obstacles to the freedom of speech are still very much present. We can take a leaf out of Pakistan Resolution and the pre-Independence ideas of great founders of Pakistan and work on the provision of rights to free speech. Pakistan Resolution is a landmark document that is relevant even today and makes a cogent argument regarding liberty and independence.

Newspaper: The News (Writer: Umer Akhtar)