Unrestricted freedom of expression

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Muhammad Hanif

AS contained in Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, almost all democratic countries have adopted right to freedom of expression in their constitutions. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. The exercise of these freedoms, may be subject to such restrictions or penalties in the interest of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, or protection of the reputation or rights of others, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary. In Pakistan also Article 19 of the Constitution grants the right to freedom of expression. This clause tells that every citizen shall possess the right to freedom of speech and expression and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the pursuit of the glorification of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any component thereof, friendly relations with other states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offensive activity.
Yet, in Pakistan, while practicing their right to freedom of expression many citizens ignore to endure by the related restrictions. For example, during political debates and TV talk shows, some political leaders and activists target the reputation of their opponents without credible evidence and make hate speeches..Similarly, some people also criticize the Pakistan military and the Judiciary by giving irresponsible statements. Likewise, many Pakistani intellectuals residing abroad, are also misusing their right of freedom of expression Some of their books, articles, and views expressed in different forums regarding Pakistan appear to have negatively impacted Pakistan’s image abroad, and undermined the prestige of the Pakistan Military and Judiciary. Here following examples are notable: In October 2017, US-based Dr Mohammad Taqi and Hussain Haqqani, a former ambassador to the US, had Co-hosted a conference in London, titled “ Pakistan: The Way Forward’ organized by a Forum, namely South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH). In the conference liberals, nationalists, human rights and social media activists from Pakistan and UK based Baloch dissidents were invited. One of the principal conclusions of the conference, reads, ‘Pakistan faces the danger of global isolation because of its continuing proxy wars in its neighbourhood, widespread obscurantism, growing intolerance, lack of rule of law, along with official support for extremism and general disregard for human rights’. This damaging conclusion indicates, that Haqqani and Taqi as Co-hosts of the conference and SAATH are contributing to tarnishing the Pakistan’s image. Actually, this is President Trump and Modi’s narrative about Pakistan, which was projected.
It would have been better if instead of blaming Pakistan for supporting terrorism, Haqqani and Taqi would have included such themes in the conference to raise Pakistan’s image by highlighting its successes in the war on terror and advocating that Pakistan was now completely safe for CPEC related investments. As per Dawn of June 21, 2016, Sartaj Aziz, had stated in the National Assembly, “that a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, (Haqqani) was ‘lobbying against his own country’ and ‘creating hurdles for the government’. According to The Express Tribune on May 10, 2018, while criticising the Supreme Court of Pakistan for reopening the Memogate case, Hussain Haqqani, who is the main accused and a declared absconder, said the Memogate case is being reopened as a ‘political gimmick’ on the constituent of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Haqqani has written two books titled, “Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State” and “ Pakistan between Mosque and Military: Magnificient Delusions”. Whereas the first book supports US and India’s stance by projecting Pakistan as a dysfunctional nuclear state, the other criticizes Pakistan’s Military. Hence, both books are meant to hurt Pakistan’s international standing. Similarly, Dr Ahmed Rashid, in his book titled ‘Pakistan on the Brink’ has described as many ills of Pakistan as one can think. Above discussion indicates that the misuse of the right to freedom of expression by some Pakistanis is negatively impacting Pakistan’s internal and external environment to the detriment of its internal harmony, and the success of its foreign, defence policies and CPEC based economic development. Hence, the unbridled exercise of the right of freedom of expression by the Pakistanis should be regulated through persuasion and invoking legal measures.
—The writer, retired Lt Col, is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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