The Dilemma of Freedom of Expression in Pakistan
Freedom of expression is a universally determined right of every individual regardless of color, caste, creed, religion, gender, and other factors. It is embedded in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite this, freedom of expression is exercised under multiple restrictions, globally. Interestingly, even in a country like the United States of America, freedom of expression is under immense restrictions.
Pakistan is not an exceptionally different democracy. Like other democracies, the right to freedom of expression is conditional and restricted in Pakistan in terms of religion and matters of national security. This is stated in Article 19 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan which says, “freedom of speech is guaranteed to all citizens albeit with certain restrictions that include ‘glory of Islam’, ‘law and order’ and ‘national security’.”
Generally, these restrictions have been exploited against religious minorities on account of blasphemy and against journalists who are persecuted for having an anti-government or anti-establishment narrative. According to a 2015 report by Freedom Network, 2014 was marked with the blood of journalists.
In recent years, Pakistan has undergone various key developments that have further exacerbated the dilemma of free speech. In 2015, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) established a code of conduct that limited media to speak on certain issues during live coverage.
The 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) introduced by former PM Imran Khan is inconsistent with the true spirit of the constitution, posing another question mark on the status of freedom of speech in Pakistan.
The Assassination of Arshad Sharif
He was a 49-year-old journalist who was brutally shot dead in Kenya on 23rd October while he was travelling from Magadi to Nairobi. Ever since the death of Arshad Sharif, the story is being turned and twisted and has become nothing but a mystery. The murder of Arshad Sharif has led to a massive outcry from the masses, demanding a fair investigation from the state authorities.
Born in 1973 in Karachi, he started his journalistic career early by working as a freelance journalist who developed his interest in investigative journalism, a field he later pursued. Later in 1999, he landed his first job at a weekly journal called “The Pulse” and worked there as Managing Editor. He continued his journalism career in defense and international affairs and mostly reported on conflicts in different areas of Pakistan.
In 2012, he was awarded the “AGAHI Award” because of his profound contributions to Pakistan’s war on terror, and later in 2016, he became the “investigative journalist of the year.” In 2018, he was honored as the “Anchor of the Year” and in 2019, he received the “Pride of Performance” Award.
Arshad Sharif had always been a vocal critic of the current government of PML-N and always supported an anti-military narrative. He was compelled to leave Pakistan because of his staunch views and before that, he had been facing sedition charges.
His TV program was also banned after it made headlines that the military was involved in the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. He fled to U.A.E and later to Kenya. His courage and bravery made him a victim of targeted killing and took him to his everlasting abode, leaving a wife and five kids behind.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, tweeted that “I am deeply saddened by the shocking news” of Sharif’s death. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also expressed his grief in a tweet where he said, “shocked at the murder of Arshad Sharif who paid the ultimate price of speaking the truth-his life.”
PM Shahbaz also had a telephone conversation with the Kenyan President, William Ruto, and requested the Kenyan President to ensure a fair and transparent investigation into the shocking incident. An inquiry committee has been made to investigate the murder. The investigation committee consists of Lt Col Saad Ahmed of ISI, IB Deputy Director-General Shahid Hamid, and Athar Waheed who is the Director of FIA. In addition to this, the foreign ministry and officials from Pakistan’s High Commissioner will assist the team.
Faisal Vawda, once a minister in Khan’s government, made remarks about the death of Arshad Sharif. He alleged that even though he was killed in Kenya, the plan was hatched in Pakistan, but not by the establishment and he had evidence to prove it. In addition to this, Lt General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum held a press conference and addressed the journalistic community, and named a whole series of people, including senior media figures, who knew about Sharif’s movements and may somehow have been connected to his death.
Role of the Kenyan Police
According to Missing Voices Kenya, since 2007, 1286 people have been killed by Kenya’s police force. In addition to this, there have been 241 enforced disappearances in the past 15 years. As far as the death of Arshad Sharif is concerned, the Kenyan police have been giving different statements in different instances.
On one account, they are found saying that they shot at the vehicle because they suspected Sharif to be travelling in a stolen vehicle they were searching for. Arshad Sharif’s driver disobeyed the order to stop at the roadblock, so the police shot at the vehicle eight times. Later, they said that they shot in self-defense as one individual from inside the vehicle opened fire first.
Various statements and questions coming from prominent Kenyan personalities also point fingers at the Kenyan police. Kenyan legal practitioner and renowned lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi also shared his thoughts on Twitter and said that the photo he had of Sharif after he was killed clearly communicates the accident was a “professional hit job.”
A Kenyan journalist, Eliud Kibii, also added that the pattern in which the bullets hit the vehicle showed that the target was Sharif. Bruno Shioso, the spokesman for Kenya’s National Police Service, only made a statement that local authorities were currently investigating the murder. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority in Kenya has started an investigation, assuring to unveil the mystery soon.
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