Pakistani journalists, lawyers call for review of British-era sedition laws seen as detrimental to free speech

Pakistani journalists gather before a press conference outside the Supreme Court building, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on June 28, 2018. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 11 August 2022

Pakistani journalists, lawyers call for review of British-era sedition laws seen as detrimental to free speech

  • The sedition law carries life imprisonment which legal experts say is against the fundamental rights of citizens
  • Journalist association urges the government to regulate implementation of the law to avoid vengeance and discrimination

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and lawyers on Thursday urged the government to formulate a mechanism to follow before registering cases under laws related to sedition, saying this was a pre-requisture to avoiding discrimination, vengeance and suppression of freedom of expression.

Pakistani governments and even private individuals have filed cases against journalists and activists in recent years under colonial-era sedition and incitement laws. A majority of these cases are registered under section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly known as the sedition law, and its sections 505 and 506, for incitement and promoting hatred between different religious, racial, or regional groups.

Pakistan’s sedition law carries sentences of life imprisonment which lawyers and journalists say was a “harsh punishment” used by  governments to silence critics and suppress freedom of expression.

“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the federal or provincial government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine,” Pakistan’s law of sedition says.

“This section of the law is of sensitive nature and its implementation needs to be regulated,” Afzal Butt, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told Arab News. “There must be a mechanism that needs to be followed before registration of a criminal case under the sedition law … The due process must be followed to avoid discrimination and vengeance.”

Butt said a majority of the cases registered under sedition and incitement laws were later quashed by the courts for being “frivolous in nature and lodged in violation of the merit.”

“Criminal cases are not registered against journalists anywhere in the world on the basis of their news and analysis,” he said, adding that Pakistani governments had been using these laws to gag journalists and media houses for decades.

“These laws should either be abolished completely, or reformed at least to ensure their just application,” Butt said.

The Pakistan government says it does not suppress the press.

Legal experts have also raised questions over the sedition law, calling for its repeal to ensure the freedom of expression.

“There is need to at least revisit this British-era law’s characteristics and features to avoid its misuse by the authorities,” Advocate Mian Ali Ashfaq, who recently represented journalist Imran Riaz Khan in sedition cases, told Arab News.

He said the charge of sedition against anybody was of a “heinous nature” that would quickly invite public reaction, therefore a vetting process before registration of the case should be made mandatory.

“Proper protocols should be set up to see if the sedition charges against a journalist or activist were substantiated and tangible,” he said. “There must be no blanket application of the law.”

Advocate Abid Saqi, who challenged the application of sedition laws in a case in the Lahore High Court in October 2020, said the law was made when there was no concept of the constitution and the freedom of expression.

“This law must be abolished,” he told Arab News, “as this is against the fundamental rights of the citizens including the freedom of expression.”


Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

Updated 6 sec ago

Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

  • Sarah Inam, 37, was allegedly murdered by husband Shahnawaz Amir last month
  • Family is based in Canada and arrived in Islamabad last week for last rites, to pursue legal case

ISLAMABAD: The father of Sarah Inam, a Pakistani-Canadian who was allegedly beaten to death by her husband last month, said on Wednesday the family would stay in Pakistan until the case was solved, calling on the government and judiciary to dispense speedy justice.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad home on September 23. Inam got married to Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal. The parents of the couple were not present at the event.

Amir is currently under arrest and being investigated by police.

Inam’s parents and two brothers arrived from Canada and the United States respectively last week to perform Inam’s last rites and pursue the legal case.

“We are still traumatized and shocked, but strongly believe that we will get justice,” Inam Rahim, the victim’s father, told media in Islamabad.

“It was all planned. He [Amir] was a predator from the start, and my daughter was so naive to believe him,” he said, adding that the family would stay in Pakistan to pursue the case till its end.

Rahim said Amir seemed “sensible and convincing” when they had interacted over the phone after the marriage and the family never suspected he was a “beast and killer.”

“We had no negative information about Shahnawaz before the incident,” he said, adding that his daughter informed the family about the marriage over the phone after it was contracted.

“We were planning a formal wedding reception for our daughter in the first week of November,” Rahim said. “It never occurred to us that our daughter, who was a genius and accomplished professional, could be killed like this.”

The father expressed confidence in the police and the investigation process and said he hoped “justice will be served in the minimum possible time.”

The police have so far verified the couple’s nikah, seized a Mercedes car bought by the deceased, and investigated at least five people who attended the couple’s marriage in Chakwal. The police have yet to recover the deceased’s Canadian passport to get exact details of her travel history and have also sought court permission to access the victim and suspect’s bank accounts to investigate accusations of extortion against Amir.

Inam’s murder is reminiscent of last year’s headline-grabbing murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, which drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.

In March this year, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, a childhood friend of Mukadam, for beheading her. Mukadam and Jaffer were widely believed to have been in a romantic relationship, which they had broken off a few months before her murder.

The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday took up appeals in the Mukadam case and regular hearing will start from October 26, which lawyers say would conclude within ten weeks.

Speaking on the occasion, Inam’s brother Farrukh Inam, an employee at a tech company in the US, said his sister had been killed in a “premeditated act,” calling for the culprit to be hanged at the earliest.

“Our lawyer says we have a strong case to plead against the culprit and we’ll take it to the logical conclusion,” he said. “We haven’t been able to sleep peacefully since her murder.”

Inam’s two uncles, aunts and several first cousins were also present at the press conference.

“She was a brilliant, intelligent and kind person,” one of her uncles, Col (retired) Ikram Rahim, said. “She has left a void in our family that can’t be filled.”


‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

Updated 44 min 32 sec ago

‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

  • Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan backs Babar Azam ahead of triangular series
  • Pakistan to play New Zealand, Bangladesh in coming days before T20 World Cup 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket team’s vice-captain Shadab Khan on Wednesday threw his weight behind skipper Babar Azam, praising him for handling “relentless pressure” and “sometimes unfair criticism” as the green shirts prepare for their triangular series against New Zealand and Bangladesh. 

Azam, widely regarded as the best T20I batter in world cricket today, has been criticized by fans over Pakistan’s recent losses in the Asia Cup 2022 and in the home series against England. At times, fans have questioned Azam’s captaincy decisions, his playing XI choices and blamed him for the team not batting aggressively. 

Pakistan have a hectic T20 schedule ahead of them in the coming days and weeks. Azam’s team are scheduled to play Bangladesh on Friday and New Zealand on Saturday for the triangular series. On October 23, they kick off their T20 World Cup campaign with a clash against arch-rivals India.

Khan, in a blog published on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s website, said the more he learns from Azam, the more his admiration for the 27-year-old grows. “The way this 27-year-old, who is relatively new to the leadership role, has handled relentless pressure and sometimes unfair criticism while ensuring his own performance doesn’t slip, is simply mindboggling,” he wrote. 

“He has stood like a rock for his players and fully backed them. This is the hallmark of a leader, this is how you earn respect from your players and this is how you develop your team,” Khan added. 

Khan said Azam had thrown his weight behind every member of the team, adding that it is up to them to rise to the occasion. “If we have to make our captain stand tall and be proud, then we have to convert our potential into performances,” he added. 

Khan responded to the backlash after Pakistan’s 4-3 loss at home to England, saying the team had “only two poor days in the office” if the series was properly analyzed. 

“But we understand and accept the anger and frustration of the fans and public: they’ve once again started to pin hopes on us after what we have achieved as a team in the past 12 months,” he added. 
 


In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

Updated 39 min 2 sec ago

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

  • Three 44-seater buses will cover routes in Gilgit and Skardu, official
  • GB government says will triple number of buses by January or February 2023

KARACHI: In a first, women in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region availed a free-of-cost bus service on Wednesday, dedicated exclusively for women’s transport. 

GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid launched the ‘Pink Bus Service’ on Tuesday, October 4 to ensure women could avail free and safe transport in the region. 

“It’s a first in the history of Pakistan that a free-of-cost bus service has been launched for women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, GB chief secretary, told Arab News in a telephonic conversation on Wednesday. 

Wani said it took him only 10 days to launch the service, from conceiving the idea to its execution. “We renovated the buses we already had, but I plan to buy new ones in the future,” he added. 

Wani recalled how he disliked seeing young women suffer as they waited for transport on various roads in GB to commute in the mornings. He said males were forced to drop women at various locations and as a result, had to pay fares for multiple people. 

“The Pink Bus Service improves access, reduces financial burden and provides security,” he explained. “It is spacious with 44 seats and covers 80 percent of the routes while it will be operating in rush hours,” Wani added. 

Delving into the details of the project, Wani said three buses will travel in the Gilgit and Skardu regions. He said the government plans to expand the service to more areas in the region. 

Buses will travel twice a day and between four routes. The Pink Bus Service timings are 06:00 am to 09:00 am and then from 01:00 p.m. to 03:00 pm. 

“Students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and women from various fields of work will benefit from the service,” Wani said. “I have directed the traffic police to facilitate these buses on the roads and I am gathering feedback from women using the service to be able to expand the service,” he added. 

“I will triple the number and routes by January or February 2023,” Wani said. 

He said women who attended the inauguration and used the buses felt comfortable and secure. 

“There has never been such an initiative or a bus service for the general public [in Gilgit Baltistan], let alone women,” Muheen Zaman, a 23-year-old journalist, told Arab News. 

“Women in GB used taxis or Suzuki [vehicles] to commute which is quite unsafe and expensive. It’s a good initiative from the GB government,” Zaman added. She hails from GB’s Ghizer District. 

Journalist Kiran Qasim, 29, told Arab News women often faced harassment while commuting in vans as two women often had to share the front seat with the driver. 

Qasim, who is from Gilgit, said while no action was taken against harassment complaints, it is a relief that women can now travel safely in spacious buses. “The routes are also quite good as women have long commutes for work so they can have a comfortable ride,” she added. 

While the bus was launched officially yesterday, the service has begun its operations from today, Wednesday. 

Shereen Karim, 27, a freelance journalist based in GB, appreciated the initiative. However, she said the timings aren’t suitable for professionals other than teachers. 

“The timings aren’t suitable for working women; these timings, I suppose, are fixed for college and university students,” Karim told Arab News. 

“So, it’s a good facility for students who cannot afford transport but not for working women. It would be good if the timings can be extended,” she added.


In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

Updated 55 min 50 sec ago

In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

  • Floods destroyed 3,000 schools in Balochistan, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom
  • 400 children of Government Boys School in Hanna Urak are attending classes in makeshift tents

QUETTA: As they stood up when their white-bearded maths professor entered a tent on Teacher’s Day on Wednesday, students in flood devastated Urak valley showed their respect not only for his role in their education, but in getting them back to class. 

The sole Government Boys School in Hanna Urak, some 40 km Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, was destroyed when the floods, caused by abnormal monsoon rains and glacial melt, have submerged huge swathes of the South Asian country since mid-June. 

The southwestern province was one of the worst hit by the deadly floods, which destroyed homes and more than 3,000 schools, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom. 

In Urak, children could not return to their damaged school when floodwaters subsided. And as the building is no longer usable, many parents gave up on their education, asking them to help rebuild their ruined households instead. 

Students are learning at a makeshift tent classroom in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan, on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As concerns are already rising of a lost generation of Pakistani children, who again are unable to reach the classroom after already missing out on schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, the maths teacher, Abdul Aleem, reached out to their parents to allow them to attend classes in tents. 

“I believe education in bad circumstances is better than stopping the children from school,” he told Arab News. 

“We have met the parents and students to convince them to education, and resumed the classes.” 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As most of the parents have agreed and classes resumed last month, Aleem who has been teaching for the past four decades, said it kept his “hopes alive for the educational future of our country.” 

Nadeem Shair Tareen, the school’s principle said he knows that it is hard now for the students and was doing his best to make sure they do not drop out. 

The children know it and they appreciate the efforts. 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The teachers in this school are concerned about the students,” Sohail Khan, a Grade 10 student, one of the school's 400 pupils, told Arab News. 

“Despite the lack of classrooms, we have been getting an education.” 


During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

Updated 05 October 2022

During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

  • General Qamar Javed Bajwa is in US on a week-long visit to discuss bilateral ties and regional security
  • Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met top US military and security officials during a week-long visit to Washington, with both sides agreeing on the need to boost bilateral ties by improving economic cooperation, trade and investment.

Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments.

On Tuesday, Gen Bajwa called on US defense secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retired), national security adviser Jacob Jeremiah Sullivan, and deputy secretary of state Wendy Ruth Sherman.

“Both sides agreed that Pakistan-US have long history of bilateral cooperation and shall continue improving through economic ties, trade and investment,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.

“Both sides had convergence on major international issues including Afghanistan and need for cooperation to avoid humanitarian crisis and improving peace and stability in the region.”

The army chief thanked the US for its assistance in the aftermath of recent floods and condoled over death and devastation in a hurricane in Florida.

Last month, Pentagon announced the US State Department had approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million. The State Department subsequently said the equipment would sustain Pakistan’s “capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats.”

The US-built F-16 aircraft are a critical part of the military arsenal of Pakistan, whose arch-rival India worries that the fleet could be used against it by its neighbor.

Officially for years allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have had a complicated relationship, bound by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad was playing a double game.

Tensions grew that militants that targetted American troops in Afghanistan were long allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil. Islamabad denies this.