ISLAMABAD : Former Senator, Farhatullah Babar has said that no medal and no award conferred on anyone in the cause of freedom of expression is more glittering than the scars on the bodies of journalists lashed during the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq.
He stated this while addressing a ceremony in the National Press Club (NPC), Islamabad, to honour journalists lashed forty years ago on this day on May 13, 1978. They are symbols of resistance journalism and are the true heroes of this country, he said referring to lashed journalists Nasir Zaidi, Iqbal Jafri, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Masoodullah and of whom journalist Nasir Zaidi was also present at the event.
Freedom of expression continues to be stifled and though no longer lashed, journalists continue to endure violence, at the hands of unseen and invisible elements with impunity, Farhatullah Babar said.
In late 60’s and 70s freedom of expression was stifled blatantly by state actors and by both state and non state actors in the 80’s. Today it is stifled by invisible and mysterious actors and posed new challenges in the form of mysterious disappearances.
The former Senator said that those who incite to violence, sectarian violence and propagate hate are free to do so but those expressing dissent or alternative narrative on policies faced the wrath of what he described as ‘the unaccountable security brigade and the ideology brigade’.
In the Watergate case Nixon pleaded national security but the Supreme Court rejected it. But living in a state of denial and paranoid we dismiss voices like that of PTM as foreign funded and against national interest, he said and proposed a debate on the ‘national interest’ paradigm.
Young journalists should develop attributes of resistance journalism. The issue of refusing to publish aggressive investigative reports may be addressed by naming and shaming the publications and by well known journalists lending support protest.
Farhatullah Babar said that absence of information and stifling dissent had played havoc. In 1971 the state and the media reported that all was well in East Pakistan and the handful of miscreants had been crushed.
Just on the day of surrender screaming newspaper headlines quoted General Niazi that he will carry on for another 6 months without help from Islamabad. We all are painfully aware of the heavy price of this bravado as freedom of expression was denied and dissenting voices dubbed as unpatriotic and anti-state, he said.
The former Senator also called for the publication of the reports of the Abbottabad Inquiry Commission, the Commissions on attack on journalists Hamid Mir in Karachi and Hayatullah in North Waziristan, the attack on APS Peshawar and the 2010 report of the first Commission on Enforced Disappearances.
Journalists Nasir Zaidi, Shakil Anjum, Mubarak Zeb and Riaz Khan also spoke on the occasion.