KARACHI: Fundamental freedoms and national progressive legislation have become hostages to the consideration of national security and religious ideology, said Senator Farhatullah Babar.
He regretted that the national media imposes a self-censorship on itself. National Security Paradigm forces the media to tell a lie. “When Taliban chief was killed in Balochistan, the media was forced to say he was killed in Afghanistan,” he added. When Taliban and the US confirmed then they told the truth.
He was speaking at a Conference on “Challenges to Civic Freedoms in Pakistan” organized by Pakistan Institute of Labour at a local hotel here on Thursday. Prominent members of the civil society, human rights activists, trade union leaders, professional groups and public representatives spoke on the occasion.
“All civil society and rights organizations should form a “National Charter for Civic Rights” on the similar pattern of the Charter of Democracy, which had made a progress in the past,” he added.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said every citizen has to realize that existence of each citizen is a reality and if you exist it is by right not as a charity. He asked the civil society to raise voice in case there is a violation of fundamental rights in the Constitution.
Senator Babar said that national security’s definition needs to the changed. In Pakistan civil and military relationships are tilted towards the security establishment. He proposed that a Parliamentary NatioanL Security Committee of both the houses be constituted, which may sit with the security establishment and discuss with the eye to eye the national issues.
Senator Farhatullah said Military courts are against the fundamental rights and the Constitution. The parliament cannot extend the tenure of the military court through legislation. Another amendment in the Constitution is required for extension of tenure of Military courts, he opined.
Speaking on the occasion, NCHR Chairman Justice (Retd.) Ali Nawaz Chowhan said there should be one system of the courts as there is no need for establishing special courts including Military courts to try civilians’ crimes. Supreme Court should sit as a full court and all the subordinate courts should come under its supervision, he added.
Justice (Retd.) Chowhan said Pakistan was created on the basis of human rights (to protect minorities rights), but it has become theocratic state. “The rulers wanted full powers because absolute and impunity is our legacy,” he said adding that the citizens need to assert our democratic values.
The NCHR head said political parties are actually not active in Pakistan, even no party has got a think- tank, except for a religious political party, which may suggest positive political changes. In fact there is no disciplinary mechanism in political parties, which causes dearth in contribution by saner elements in the political parties, he added.
He said that NCHR, which is a Constitutional body, is facing financial and administrative problems. The NCHR is working for the rights of marginalized sections including transgender. It has prepared reports on major issues like Thar drought, disappeared persons and on peasants protest at Okara Military Farms.
Chairperson of Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) Justice (Retd.) Majida Razvi said often major laws were imposed without any consultations with the concerned stakeholders. After passage of the laws, Rules of Business must be made, she added.
“We must see the laws are made in perspective of human and civil rights so any law must reserve and keep the civil liberties in accordance to law in mind.”
Intolerance has increased in the society. “In the past, I also received threats when we are reviewing the Hudood laws.” People used to call me Kafirs, giving me death threats. She hoped that the Sindh Assembly would not amend the Anti-forced conversion law.
She said she has been asking the provincial assembly that Sindh HRC must be consulted before any legislation. All of us have a duty that proper laws are legislated and rules of business are made accordingly.
Ms. Sorath Thebo, MPA from PML-N said even members of the provincial assembly receive threats after passage of bill against forced conversion. “Even someone called me on phone in a threatening tone” she said adding: “We have to come out from fear of these threats.” We will continue our struggle for people’s rights.
Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the ideologies of political parties have died, which is the reason that trade unions or students unions are not restored in Pakistan. Journalism has become dangerous profession, earlier, journalists were committed to their profession.
He pointed out that between 1947-1988 one can find hardly 50 journalists lost their lives, but since 1988 over 150 journalists have been killed, especially after introduction of electronic media. He blamed media houses for putting lives of journalists in danger.
The corporate media has caused news as the first causality then journalists. In an intolerant society, electronic media is not using cautious, he added. Management in TV channels dictates a lot because trade unions are weaker and there is no ethics in news rooms.
Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) said that the rulers have come out with colonial mindset in which people were considered as subjects. An overwhelming majority of bureaucracy do not think that they are public servants and accountable to elected representatives. They still don’t know that every citizen has equal rights and it is duty of the state to protect rights of people.
“We reject encroachment on space provided by the Constitution of Pakistan. It is equal responsibility of all citizens, public representatives, bureaucrats and government ministers to uphold the Constitution.”
He asked the participants to make a strategy to struggle and assert their Constitutional rights in a peaceful manner.
Chairman of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Muhammad Ali Shah said in the democratic system freedom of expression is important, but presently there is no value of freedom of expression for common citizens. Those who speak for rights, they are either killed or kept behind the bars.
All civil society organizations should be united to protest against the action against human rights activists, he added. He said coal power plant in Thar is a dangerous project, which would destroy environment and culture of the desert.
Ms. Bushra Khaliq from Women in Struggle for Empowerment said that many law enforcement agencies are enjoying impunity, in which citizens are tortured through systematic persecution. It is a big question on the government.
She pointed out that in Punjab only service delivery NGOs are allowed to work, but those organizations which work for rights of people are being persecuted. The government has restricted meetings by rights-based organisations. Many civil society organizations are either banned, harassed and their people are arrest on the pretext of “dubious activities.”
She mentioned an incident in her organisation on dubious allegations and publication of fake news in local newspapers against her organisation.