Censorship detrimental to fundamental rights, panelists say at Asma Jahangir Conference

LAHORE: The participants of the Asma Jahangir Conference on Saturday resolved that the imposition of censorship in the name of national interests must end as it is detrimental to the fundamental rights.

The two-day conference to pay a tribute to late Asma Jahangir kicked off on Saturday in a local hotel which was attended by lawyers, politicians, journalists, and human right activists from Pakistan and abroad. Thousands of participants, including students and people from every walk of life, were among the attendees.

Among the guest speakers for the inaugural ceremony were Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ) Mian Saqib Nisar, IA Rehman, former secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Ahsan Bhoon, SC Advocate Anwarul Haq Pannu, Lahore High Court (LHC) Bar Association President Pir Kaleem Khurshid, SC Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Kamla Bhasin, Afghan activist and scholar Orzala Nemat, Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan Jean-François Cautain, former Australian high court judge Michael Kirby, Pakistan Bar Council member Azam Nazir Tarar, former LHC Bar Association president Abid Saqi, and Jahangir’s daughter Sulema Jahangir were among the moderators. Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry also participated in the event.

The participants expanded their great gratitude to the vision and legacy of Jahangir while discussing the rule and law situation in the country. They devised strategies for the promotion of justice by strengthening the rule of law and democracy, protection of fundamental rights, ensuring the independence of judiciary and mainstreaming gender-related issues.

Nine different sessions were held where speakers shared ideas.

CJ Saqib Nisar, during his address to the participants, said that Asma Jahangir was his mentor in the field. “I learnt a lot from her and tried to utilise my expertise in my profession,” he said.

Renowned journalist IA Rehman was of the view that the whole nation has become silent with the silence of Jahangir. While throwing light on her life, he admitted that she had great courage which could not be measured. “She was a voice of every voiceless. She was committed to defending democracy and rule of the law in the country,” Rehman added.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that he had never seen such a courageous person in his whole life. “Today, the leadership deficit prevails in the country but Asma was a leader who fulfilled her commitments. She not only raised her voice but also took practical steps,” he said while adding that even dictators, politicians and judges were frightened of her determination.

During his address, Abbasi also lashed out at the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) “selective” anti-corruption derive in the country. He was of the view the NAB had no mechanism to hold a person accountable. “The current NAB law is trash as it was designed to prosecute politicians alone,” he said, suggesting that the only solution to make a politician accountable is through polling.

Awami National Party (ANP) leader Bushra Gohar, in her speech during “Strengthening Democracy and Rule of Law” session, said that true democracy could not prevail in the country since the military had intervened throughout history either directly or indirectly. While criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, she said that the situation has become worst for democracy in the country. “Chief justice and Imran Khan have become sandbags and there is a need to know who is behind them,” she added.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said that Pakistan has come on the right track where there is no direct threat to the rule and law. While criticising Gohar, he said that during ANP’s five-year tenure in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Asfand Yar Wali stayed in Dubai. He also alleged that the ANP government procured substandard bullet-proof jackets for police personnel who were fighting against terrorists. “Democracy comes under threat when there is an absence of accountability while corruption also threatens the rule of law,” he concluded.

Panelists from Pakistan and those from across the globe, including India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and the United States (US) discussed cybercrime awareness, suggesting the need of improvement in the current data protection laws. Furthermore, the panelists also concluded that a distinction should be drawn between cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. “Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression for Youth and Students” session concluded that there is a dire need to give importance to the autonomous academic freedom.

Speakers at the “Freedom of Expression and Shrinking Spaces for Dissent” session discussed the oppression and forced disappearances of journalists in Pakistan and around the world. The panel also concluded to empower Article 19 in its true letter and spirit.

The “Justice for Empowerment” session included a panel discussion on the outdated and discriminatory labour laws and its effects on the working women.

At the end of the first day of the conference, the attendees unanimously passed several resolutions. It was resolved that the independence of judiciary does not mean to abuse the suo motu powers and there must be some limitations. It was further resolved that women need to be empowered in the criminal justice system while family laws must be reformed; judicial activism must be curtailed; and Article 184/3 should be reviewed.

Other resolutions that were passed include: student unions should be restored on campuses; freedom of expression and critical thinking should be protected by law in the universities; all forms of interference by non-academic institutions (including the security agencies) on campuses should come to an immediate end; curricula and teaching methodology should be geared towards inculcating a spirit of critical thinking among students; the livelihood of academics should be protected by the state; and more economic opportunities should be opened for young academics and artists.