All posts by Sana Saleem

Blogger at The Guardian, Global Voices & Contact:

Let’s wait for the next Rashid Rehman to be murdered

First published at

It is beyond tragic that the men that shot human rights advocate Rashid Rehman five times, had to pretend to be clients in order to kill him.

After all, why should pious men undertaking God’s work ever have to come in disguise like cold blooded cowards?

They should have learnt a thing or two from their comrade, Advocate Zulfiqar Sindhu, who being the self-appointed messiah that he is, blatantly pronounced a death sentence for Rehman in an open court.

What a remarkably honest man.

Rehman too, should have known better. He worked for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); a quick look at the HRCP’s annual report for 2013 would have informed him that the ‘pious men of God’ burned down 100 homes as residents fled fearing for their lives, 17 Ahmadis, 13 Christians and nine Muslims were forced to live in indefinite detention inside prisons awaiting death, as no one is willing to take up their case and the lawyers who are compelled to do so keep leaving one after another.

  Activists stage a protest against the killing of Rashid Rehman. —Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Activists stage a protest against the killing of Rashid Rehman. —Photo by Tanveer Shahzad – DAWN

With Rehman’s murder that too shall end.

Rehman should have known better than to challenge men who would not even spare him after his death; he should have reread the stories of the Hindus of Badin who weredug out of their graves because they were buried in the wrong graveyard.

In an email, a few days before his death, Rehman raised concerned over media reports that covered a “one-sided” story. He felt irresponsible reporting was flaming the issue.

I am surprised no one replied to remind him about Meher Bokhari’s hour-long TV show reading out fatwas against a sitting Governor who was later shot over 20 times and killed for seeking pardon for a blasphemy accused mother.

Rehman should have known better than to expect the media to cover both sides of the story. If he was being fair and honest, he would have known that when it comes to God’s self-appointed helpers, there is no other side to the story, you can choose between a life of solitary confinement or a lynch mob. A lynch mob is usually easier and quicker.

Also read: Descent into darkness

And what of Aasia Bibi, Sawaan Masih and Junaid Hafeez?

Their names will exist in human rights reports and be quickly replaced by others in the next annual report. To expect justice, rationality or even plain old mercy would be a crime.

No one will utter another word till one more Rehman is shot dead, rinse and repeat.

Fear is a habit I am not afraid,” is how Rehman defined his circumstances amid threats to his life, what better way to describe destiny that awaits us sooner or later.

Fear should be a habit for each one of us and whether we are afraid or not, no one will be spared from the pious wrath of God’s self-appointed helpers.

Until then, sit back and await your turn.

YouTube ban: Running out of excuses

Dawn File Photo

The post originally appeared on the Dawn Blog 

One fine evening in September 2012, a law abiding, zealous and concerned countryman made a phone call to the Prime Minister’s office “Raja sahab, have you read the news? The Libyans have killed the US ambassador and the situation is out of control. I can not believe it, it’s incomprehensible. We must fix this at once, it’s important that we do so now”.

Shortly after, then Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf did what duty demanded of him, he passed an executive order to ban access to YouTube. It made absolute sense, but that wasn’t enough, duty demanded that the state go one step ahead – not to be competitive with Libya or Egypt – and sanction a day for “showing love to the Prophet”. And so, passionate lovers thronged the streets of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad and showered their affection by pelting stones, setting ablaze a few buildings and a bunch of cars; yes, passion can be ruthless.

After the ban in Pakistan was imposed, Afghanistan and Bangladesh followed lead. Both have since revoked the ban, to be clear Pakistan remains the only country in the world where YouTube is still blocked in reaction to the infamous video.

Although, there was a moment of clarity in December 2012 when the ban was revoked, but that quite literally lasted for two hours only. Letters, features, reports, articles and even court summons have gone unnoticed by the now Minister of State for Information Technology, Anusha Rehman Khan. Where Pakistan People’s Party that takes great pride in it’s liberal and democratic values initiated the ban, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) despite it’s love for economy, has paid no heed to the plight of artists, entrepreneurs, academics and businesses.

In countries where a local version of YouTube existed – an official legal presence of the company – the option to remove the video from their jurisdiction seemed an easy option to satisfy rioters and angry citizens. The method is simple, in areas where YouTube has a local presence a request can be sent by authorities to take down certain content citing a law and/or a court order. However, a quick look at theGoogle Transparency Report reveals that only a small portion of such takedown requests are complied with. In Pakistan’s case, however, Google does not have a local presence and therefore doesn’t abide by the local laws. [See Google’s response to localisation and content removal in Pakistan’s case].

In countries like Bangladesh, that faced a similar situation like Pakistan, there is an option of placing an ‘interstitial’ – a warning screen – before the content, because on the internet, unlike television, access to content is mostly voluntary. Unless a user switches on their computer, connects it to the internet and proactively looks for the content, there’s a very slim chance they would be able to stumble upon it. So a warning screen before an offensive video seemed a sensible option.

But of course, we didn’t buy that, we want the video to be removed in its entirety, which begs the question even if it is removed from access in Pakistan, does it change the fact that it will still be accessible? If its still accessible elsewhere, how does that change anything? And even if it is removed from around the world, how does it prevent others from pulling off similar stunts? If there was ever a way to demonstrate a quick fire way to deprive a country of 180 million from access to information, we made it pretty darn easy.

This now brings me to the recent hoopla, a district court in San Francisco hasdirected Google to remove the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video on copyright grounds based on a plea made by actress Cindy Lee Garcia. The claims are similar to the ones that were reported when the video was released, that the actress was ‘duped’ into appearing in the video, was unaware of the content, had not signed release orders, and received threats after it was uploaded.

Following the order, the video has been removed from YouTube (for now), a quick search reveals trailers that show a “copyright takedown screen”. Its important to remember the court order is in light of the copyright violation and not the nature of the content of the video, similarly Google’s reaction to the court order is on the use of the copyright law for content takedown and not the nature of the content in question.

The government that was quick to keep access to the site blocked has been exceptionally slow with their response. Surprise, surprise! The ban was never based on the video but a good-looking public excuse to allow filters to be installed that can make room for blanket surveillance and censorship. National security, blasphemy and immorality have made for great excuses to censor information.

From the anatomy of the breast to breast cancer, we’ve got all our national security threats sorted and successfully blocked. There might be a phone call in the offing to tell Minister sahiba and brief PM sahab on how the video may reappear once again, never mind other petty issues such as the Taliban offensive and the education emergency that demand our immediate attention, and the ministry will have yet another public excuse to keep the ban going.

In the past six months, we have heard it all, from buying filters to blocking access to the specific video, to renting filters from PTCL, to forcing Google to localise, to banning all of Google if it doesn’t comply, to now, finding a new excuse to keep the site blocked, there is no method to this madness, neither an end.

It took well over a year for the court in San Francisco to make its decision, Google will be challenging the decision based on the use of the copyright law, which in case of a content sharing website could be lethal, but that might take a while.

The state has in its hands a unique opportunity to mend its ways, we can either choose to dig our heads out of the sand or keep shooting ourselves in the foot; I’ll keep the Band-Aids handy.

منور حسن کے نام ایک خط

امیر جماعت اسلامی پاکستان سید منور حسن — فائل فوٹو –.

امیر محترم جناب منور حسن صاحب

السلام علیکم!

امید ہے آپ خیریت سے ہوں گے۔ میں نے یہ خط لکھنے سے پہلے کافی سوچ بچار کی کہ کہیں آپ کی حالیہ پریشانیوں میں اضافہ نہ کر دوں پر چوہدری نثار صاحب کی التجائی تقریر اور آپ کا اپنے بیان پر قائم رہنے کے بعد اور کوئی چارہ نہ بچا۔

میں نے پہلے بھی آپ کو ایک خط لکھا تھا پر اسکا کوئی جواب نہیں آیا، کوئی بات نہیں خط ویسے بھی عورتوں کے ساتھ ہونے والی زیادتی کے بارے میں تھا ایسی چیزوں کو ہمارے معاشرے میں کہاں اہمیت دی جاتی ہے۔

کیا فرق پڑتا ہے اگر ایک پانچ سالہ بچی کو درندگی کا نشانہ بنا کر زندہ دفنا دیا جائے۔ اس کا اپنے آپ کو اس قبر سے باہر نکالنا بھی کس کام کا جب وہ آپ کی ہدایت کے مطابق چار گواہ نہ پیش کر سکے۔ چار سالہ مہوش کی بات بھی کیا کوئی سنے گا، اس کا مجرم تو کیمرے کے سامنے اسے ہسپتال چھوڑ گیا، شاید آپ  یہ کہیں کہ ہمیں شکر گزار ہونا چاہیے کہ وہ بچی کو ہسپتال تو پہنچا گیا۔

خیر غیر ضروری گفتگو پر معذرت، میں صرف آپ سے کچھ سوال پوچھنا چاہوں گی۔ عرض یہ ہے کہ کچھ عرصے قبل انٹرنیٹ پر انیس سو اسی میں کیے گئے ایک انٹرویو کی اسکینڈ تصویر شائع کی گئی۔ انٹرویو برطانوی اخبار انڈیپینڈینٹ میں شائع ہوا اور مشہور کالم نگار روبرٹ فسک نے لکھا تھا. تاریخ سے نا واقف لوگوں کے لئے یہ ایک کافی حیرت انگیز انٹرویو تھا، جس میں اسامہ بن لادن کو ایک بہادر مجاہد قرار دیا گیا جو کہ امن کی جنگ لڑ رہا ہے۔

آپ جیسے تاریخ سے واقف لوگوں کے لئے شاید یہ حیرت انگیز نہ ہو پر کافی لوگوں کے لئے تھا۔ آپ کے حال ہی کے بیان سے مجھے خیال آیا کے دریافت کروں؛

“اگر امریکا کا مارا ہوا کتا شہید یا امریکا کی جنگ لڑنے والا ہلاک ہے تو ستر کی دہائی میں افغانستان میں لڑنے والا جنگجو ہلاک ہوا یا شہید؟”

کیا امریکا کے پیسوں پر جہاد جائز ہے؟

اور اگر نہیں تو تاریخ کی اس عظیم کوتاہی کو کس طرح سدھارا جائے؟ کیونکہ اگر آپ کو یاد ہو تو امریکا نے نا صرف ٹریننگ میں مدد کی بلکہ بھاری بھرکم اسلحہ اور پیسے بھی فراہم کئے تھے. اس وقت کمیونزم کے خلاف جنگ کو جہاد بنا دیا گیا تھا اور جے آئی کے کارکنان نے اس کی بھرپور حمایت کی.

ایک اور بات، جن سترہ فوجیوں کا تیراہ میں گلہ کاٹا گیا وہ ہلاک ہوئے یا شہید؟ کیا ان کی موت سلالہ میں شہید ہونے والے سپاہیوں سے کم تر ہے؟ اگر ہے تو مہربانی کر کے ان کے عزیزواقارب کو اطلاع کر دیں جو اپنے جوان بچوں کی کٹی ہوئی لاشیں دفنا کر تمغوں کے سہارے زندہ ہیں۔ پاک فوج کے سپاہیوں کی تو شاید آپ کو فکر نہیں پر اپنے پرانے افغان جنگجو دوستوں کی ہی قدر کریں اور آخری بار تاریخ درست کر دیں۔

گستاخی معاف، یہ انٹرنیٹ بھی عجیب چیز ہے، مغرب کا ایک اور حربہ، پر کبھی اس پر کرنل امام کے قاتل کی ویڈیو ضرور دیکھیے گا شاید پرانے جنگجو دوستوں کی ایک پرانی ترکیب یاد آ جائے۔


Rape – A personal story – Guest Post By Shehrish

Guest Post By Shehrish 

Rape. It’s one of those words that I can repeat a thousand times over without ever associating myself with it. I hear, read & speak about it often, but without a sense of self. I say that because I’m a rape survivor.

I survived rape even before I knew it existed, let alone comprehend the pain and complexities it brings with it during & years after. I can talk about its repercussions and the every minute struggle, I can speak of pain, the lack of understanding on how rape is more about violence and less about rape, can testify to its ability to mess with your brain & everything else, but what I can’t do or don’t do enough is associate it with myself, my life & who I am today. I survived rape. But there’s more to my life than just that. I’ve achieved more than I ever imagined I would, most of all I’ve been loved more than I ever though anyone could ever be. I’m not social, but I am friendly, I can feel compassion and be passionate & motivated by things. But while I continue to live my life, there are also these tiny moments of relapse, of vulnerability, sometimes I feel it’s like life is more like playing mine sweeper, you never know when you hit a trigger & everything goes roaring back to zero.

But my rape doesn’t define me. It’s only a fraction of time, among all the other moments I cherish and regret. It’s a part of my life. It’s not my identity either. But my rape, and I say ‘my’ as means to eliminate the last bit of shame — unintentionally unknown shame that’s not mine to keep, is what unfortunately shapes my interactions & thought process many a time. The sight of a staircase, a broken branch, a ball rolling down an alleyway, a rope. Far too many harmless things that have the ability to cause severe emotional and physical pain. Sometimes the triggers are so severe that all I can think is pushing back every single thing that could possibly protect me; to isolate myself and detach completely. The flashbacks, they’re lethal, it’s like each time your abuser comes back physically in front of you, his voice in whispers
” No one’s going to hear you scream, no one’s coming to help..”

Like everything you’ve ever been able to accomplish is razed to the ground within moments. But those words have never meant anything to me like they did today. When I felt that I’ve lost my only one ability that allowed me to act, my ability to listen & my words; that’s all my strength. But I know that this too shall pass, but for starters I want to hold on to the only thing that gives me strength & use them to tell my story.

You don’t need to know who I’m. Please allow me the anonymity & the ability to tell my story without taking any more burdens.

From One Potential Blasphemer To Another: In Pusuit Of Clarity


Dear Parliamentarians, 

I write to you in the hope of assisting you in a rather arduous task being assigned to you by the PTA. If recent reports are to be believed, the Pakistan telecommunication authority has done the unthinkable; in a rare moment of clarity the PTA has requested the parliament to define ‘blasphemy’.

Yes, after the country’s governor was shot 27 times for seeking pardon for a blasphemy accused mother, his murderer garlanded by lawyers and defended by the ex-Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, a 14-year-old young girl and her family driven out of the country, a 70-year-old mentally unstable woman sentenced to 14 years in jails, several hundred burnt houses and dozens of lynched dead bodies later, you’ve finally been approached to determine what exactly classifies as blasphemy.

If you ask me, it’s rather strange that none of the incidents – or call them random acts of insanity – I summarised were able to do what a B-grade filmmaker was able to achieve. But then again, priorities! We are a nation of strange people and reactions; we forgive the unforgivable and punish ourselves for the crimes of others.

Without wasting much time, I’d want to discuss the important issue at hand. Now that you’ve been given the responsibility of defining blasphemy for the nation, given how difficult it is to be specific, and government policies are by their nature vague, I’d say go with enlisting instances of blasphemy for clarity’s sake:

  • One commits blasphemy each time they harm another in the name of religion.
  • One commits blasphemy each time they incite hatred for another in the name of religion.
  • One commits blasphemy each time they justify murder in the name of religion.
  • One commits blasphemy each time they persecute another for their faith or lack of it.
  • One commits blasphemy each time they infringe the right to freedom of expression, opinion or movement of another, in the name of religion.

For the biggest form of blasphemy that we all almost always commit is to force another to live in fear for believing, speaking, thinking and sometimes even existing, as we justify it in the name of our faith or stand silent as we bear witness.

No videos, sketches or hate speeches have hurt Islam more than the reckless army of blood thirsty goons justifying vandalism in the name of religion.

There doesn’t exist a form of disrespect bigger than justifying cold-blooded murder and hate in God’s name. To instill fear and lawlessness in the society and to justify that as an act of faith. End the insanity now, tell the nation that we aren’t all potential blasphemers waiting to be lynched as and when the opportunity arises.

Trust me; it might do a lot more than just unblocking YouTube.


A fellow potential blasphemer.

Bigotry for our own


How our hatred for the white man saviour complex is allowing us to belittle our heroes

You want to witness privilege in action, read a column by Nicholas Kristof or watch an episode of Oprah. Call it a way of life if you will, to assume that the burden of the world’s problems lie on your shoulders and you can solve it by the click of a button. Poverty in Africa, child marriage in Afghanistan or the Taliban in Pakistan, name anything and it can be resolved by sheer enthusiasm and a condescending sense of privilege.

It’s got nothing to do with solidarity or justice.

The white-saviour-industrial-complex consumes most of our international media coverage and, unfortunately, most of our diplomatic relations too. It’s a world where nuance goes to die. People become regional experts instantly; if you’ve read an article or two about Pakistan, seen a few news items you’re well in the race to become an expert. Toss a bit of experience with eating daal or biryani and you might as well start commenting on the threats facing the country’s nuclear weapons and the women that need saving.

Fortunately for us, a considerable number of people call it out, but more recently our critique of the white saviour has deprived us from acknowledging our most valuable; our children.

When the story of Malala first emerged and as the media coverage began showing the ‘evil Taliban’ killing children for going to school, a wave of retaliation emerged, like most societies or people most of us don’t like being criticised. It would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that it wasn’t our criticism to take. The Taliban do not represent us, their views do not represent ours, we don’t want to live in a society where children are threatened to go to school; if anything we want to live in a country free from the insecurity, the constant scrutiny and the corruption we struggle with every single day.

It’s true that not all human rights violations get the attention they deserve, the media industry we have is at best manipulative and heavily politicised. When children that are reported dead in drone strikes or military action do not get the attention they deserve, attention that would call an end to extra judicial murders, we are in the right to be angry. But we are bigoted, hypocritical and self flagellating when we blame the victim of one act of terror for the lack of acknowledgement of the other.

Think for a moment about being attacked or losing a family member. Now imagine having to battle reactions that question you on why you should be allowed to grieve when others aren’t. It’s delusional nonsense that’s rooted in apathy not concern for human life. The criticism of the white man’s burden, the criticism for people selectively raging on human rights issues, the criticism for possible media bias should not rob us off our empathy, it shouldn’t blind us from the realities of our lives.

By demonising Malala’s struggle, her critics follow the trait they loathe — the politicisation of human rights.

Ironic as it seems, the rightful but blind rage against hypocrisy has aided bigotry for our own. Malala’s struggle isn’t her fight alone, it is the fight of the children of FATA who due to excessive military action — both drones and air-force shelling — have been deprived of their right to life, it represents one of every ten children in Pakistan who is unable to go to school.

Rather than frowning upon the fact that Malala’s family chose to live outside of Pakistan, let’s work towards a country where our children should never have to fear for their lives or be rescued and forced to live a life away from home. Politicising a human rights issue in response to politicisation of another human rights issue only leads to polarisation not reason.

It’s not farfetched, a rational possibility that one could condemn suicide bombings and also be outraged by drone attacks. As people, we stand painfully divided and unless we break free from our passivity and apathy and mobilise to take back our rights, there’s little hope for the future.

Pakistan Elections: The Missing Voters

Originally published by Index On Censorship 

Pakistan’s historic election is history. Historic because it is the first time a government has completed its term without being ruthlessly axed, toppled by military dictatorship or unelected politicians.

It was also one of the bloodiest elections in the country’s history. At the end of three weeks of campaigning, at least 117 people including election candidates have been killed. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began talks on Sunday to form a new government, The New York Times reported.

As the campaigns proceeded, the rift became clearer: the Taliban threatened and attacked specific political parties namely, Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, derailing their campaigns to the point where the parties had to shut down their election offices. Even that didn’t stop the terror attacks, as locked and empty political party offices continued to be targeted. The Taliban claimed that the political parties being targeted were secular and worked against the ideology of Islam. Although the Taliban were the biggest perpetrators, they weren’t the only ones: political rivalries and attacks continued throughout the country during campaign time. Only Punjab, one of the country’s largest provinces, remained relatively terror free.

pakistan-flagMoreover, the political parties that were not on the Taliban hit list shied away from calling out the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan over the attacks, despite condemning the attacks vocally. Eventually, as a gesture of solidarity, Pakistan Tehreek – e – Insaaf, party led by Imran Khan, announced to it would withdraw all its scheduled events for election campaigning in Karachi.

Violence, Moral Policing and the Constitution

Violent attacks by far have been the biggest deterrent to political campaigning this election, sustaining attacks because of their secular ideology shunned political workers from expressing their views, further bifurcating the already polarised political and social discourse.

But hindrance to freedom of expression began as early as the election process itself. The election commission sparked a huge debate when the nomination papers of a renowned columnist were rejected by the district returning officer, or RO, “for writing against the ideology of Pakistan” in his columns. But even more concerning was the fact that the objection was raised by invoking the constitution’s Article 62 & 63, introduced during the much-reviled dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq. To paraphrase, the articles made it mandatory for prospective political candidates to have a clean criminal record; of being of noble and sound character reflecting the Islamic beliefs and of not having ever worked against the security and interest of the nation or having criticized the military or the judiciary, amongst other things.

The account of journalist and politician Ayaz Amir was even more revealing: “I was told that in my column I have endorsed liquor drinking. I really don’t know from where the RO has got this impression, as I have not written anything like this.” As fellow journalist Omar Warraich aptly summed it, it seemed Amir was being disqualified for a thought crime. Amir challenged this in the Lahore High Court, which reversed the RO’s decision, allowing Amir to contest elections. However, that hasn’t stopped the much needed debate around Pakistan’s amended constitution, which successfully cripples freedom of speech, expression and even privacy by subjecting it to ‘reasonable restrictions’ from vague terms like ‘glory of Islam’  to a subjective issue of ‘morality’.

The missing voters

It’s hard not to acknowledge the void left by the missing voters — women, the nearly 1.5 million people of Gilgit Baltistan and the four million Ahmadis. Although their plights may vary, the issue remains the same — a significant segment of the society will watch the elections unfold from a distance and not enough has been done to ensure their participation.

The Ahmadiyya community has boycotted the elections process for at least three decades after a law declared them ‘non-Muslims’. This was exacerbated in 2011 when the election commission created a separate voters list for the Ahmadis. This action marginalised them even further. Even though Pakistan’s Supreme Court took the discrimination complaint under serious consideration, it ruled that the court couldn’t over rule a constitutional command.  The past few years have been tumultuous for the country’s religious minorities, the boycott from the Ahmadiyya community might deter other religious minorities from voting.

A report published last year by Pakistan’s Fair & Free Election Network, approximately 10 million Pakistani women were unaccounted for in the draft electoral rolls released in 2011. With the exception of a few, political parties have remained largely negligent of mobilising the women voters. Despite powerful women in the assembly and strikingly powerful stories of women candidates the issue remains: How many women will turn up to exercise their right to vote? Will the stories of candidate Veeru Kohli, bonded labourer from Hyderabad and  Badam Zari of Bajaur inspire more women voters to practice their rights? Reports suggest otherwise.


Our Silence Is Criminal

Mehzar was on her way to her school, alongside her father, when they shot at her. Two bullets. Nazar Abbass Zaidi, her father, succumbed to his injuries. Mission accomplished.

There has been no coverage of the incident in mainstream media, so please forgive me if I can’t share more details. There isn’t much to share. Except that a fourteen year old now lies wounded in a hospital bed slowly recovering from her pain, they say when she’s conscious she asks about her father, they say doctors are worried if they operate on her the surgery may leave her paralyzed, they are asking why we are all silent?

I am told the silence is because of fear. There’s a genuine fear about reporting these incidents, there’s a threat to each voice that dares to question or even grieve the killing. While bullets are tainted with the blood of the Shias amongst us the death of our collective conscience is a much bigger catastrophe. It makes us complacent.

For as long as I can remember I have read news reports, human rights journals & watched news clips reporting ‘sectarian violence’, it remains a vivid memory in my mind. But who are these sects we speak of, that are being targeted? It’s not sectarian killing, it’s systematic targeted killing of the members of a sect; the Shias. From hate graffiti to bullet riddled dead bodies its the Shias amongst us that are being eliminated one after the other. But now even the ritual reports on sectarian violence have been silenced.

If Mehzar ever gets a chance at life again, it’s only fair that she hears the truth: Mezhar, it is our bigotry and our shameful silence that killed your father and unless we break free from our fears & acknowledge the glaringly obvious please feel free to blame us for the death of your father, the horrors you will continue to face & for the blood of many more that will continue to be shed while we look away.

Moshin ye Maqbool Riwayat hai jahan main. Qatil kabhi maqtool ka matam nahin kertey

ماتمی ماحول میں خوشیاں کیسی؟

بچپن میں جب ایک بار امی نے عید کے نئے کپڑے نہیں بنائے تو معلوم ہوا کہ وہ اس سال عید نہیں منائیں گی، نانا کی وفات کو کچھ ہی ہفتے گزرے تھےاور امی کے مطابق جس گھر میں ماتم ہو وہاں خوشیاں نہیں منائیں جاتیں۔

بھلا کوئی عید کے دن کیسے افسردہ ہو سکتا ہے؟ چاہے کچھ بھی ہو سال میں ایک دن ایسا ضرور ہونا چاہیے جب انسان خوشی منا سکے اور عید سے بہتر اور کیا کوئی اور تہوار ہو سکتا ہے؟

وقت بھی عجیب ہے، کچھ سبق وقت کے ساتھ ہی ملتے ہیں۔ انیس سال بعد آج کے دن شاید امی کی بات کا مطلب سمجھ اور محسوس کر سکتی ہوں۔

 جس گھر میں ماتم ہو وہاں خوشیاں نہیں منائیں جاتیں۔

جب ملک بھر میں ماتم کا سا ماحول ہو تو کونسا تہوار اور کیسی خوشیاں؟ ہماری شرم، لحاظ اور ہمت کا ماتم، ماتم ہماری غیرت کا جو ایک گیارہ سال کی معصوم اور معذور بچی کے اوپر ظلم ہوتا دیکھ کر بھی خاموش ہے۔

 بے حسی کا یہ مقام ہے کہ سو لوگوں کا مجمع اس بچی کو زندہ جلانے پر تلا ہے اور شاید کامیاب بھی ہو جائے، پر خوف اور بے بسی کا یہ عالم ہے کہ ہم اس ظلم پر کھل کے بات بھی نہیں کر سکتے۔

اس ماتم زدہ ماحول میں پھر کوئی کس چیز کی خوشی منائے؟ وہ بھی عید، جو رمضان کے مکمل ہونے کا جشن ہے، سال کے وہ تیس دن جو ہمارے صبر اور قوت برداشت کے لیے آزمائش ہیں۔ اور جس آزمائش میں ہم مکمل طور پر ناکام ہو چکے ہیں۔

ہم کیسے خوشی منا سکتے ہیں جب گیارہ سالہ رمشا اڈیالہ جیل میں ایک ایسے جرم میں قید ہے جس کا وہ تصور کرنے کے بھی قابل نہیں ہے۔ تھانے میں جب پولیس نے اس کا بیان لینا چاہا تو صرف اتنا ہی لکھ سکے کہ وہ ان کاغذوں کو ایک محفوظ مقام پر لے کر جارہی تھی۔

لیکن یہ بات سمجھنا شاید ان سو لوگوں کے بس کی بات نہیں، جو کافی گھنٹے تھانے کے باہر پولیس کو یہ کہتے رہے کہ وہ بچی انکے حوالے کر دیں تاکہ خود اس سے نمٹ سکیں۔

شاید ہم سب اپنی جان کی پرواہ کرتے ہیں اور خوفزدہ ہیں۔ ایسا ہونا صحیح بھی ہے۔

مگر میرا سوال یہ ہے کہ ایسا کون سا مذہب ہے جو انہیں ایک گیارہ سالہ معذور بچی کو زندہ جلانے کی اجازت دیتا ہے؟

اور جس نورانی قائدے کی بے حرمتی پر یہ لوگ اتنے طیش میں ہیں اس کی بے حرمتی یہ کم ہوگی کہ اس کے پڑھنے والوں اور درندوں میں کوئی فرق نہ رہے۔

اور یہ کیسا خوف ہے جو ہم پر طاری ہے اور کب تک؟

سنا ہے کے خوف کے زیر اثر بزدل بھی شجاعت دکھا سکتا ہے۔ کاش یہ سچ ہو


Unpacking an Anti-Censorship Campaign

Post written for and appeared in global voices advocacy

When the ICT R&D fund in Pakistan announced a call for proposals earlier this year for a “National URL Filtering and Blocking System” inviting companies, academia and research institutions to bid; my reaction was of shock and disbelief. Not because censorship is a new phenomenon in Pakistan — in fact it has been legitimized and often protected under the constitution camouflaged as an initiative to counter blasphemy, immorality and national security threats — but because of the audacity of making the bid publicly, and also involving institutions that are likely to be censorship’s biggest victims.

It is perhaps the first time that a government has announced its plans for censorship publicly. In the past years, Pakistan’s government has been involved in covertly censoring the Internet, the acquiring of a National URL Filtering and Blocking System would be the last nail in the coffin. In a security state where civil liberties repeatedly succumb to national security measures, it becomes increasingly difficult to fight for Internet freedom. Having been a part of anti-censorship campaigns before, two things were absolutely clear, the state will use its usual ploys — religion, morality and national security– for unquestionable authority; and for an anti-censorship campaign to be successful it must make use of the same tactics. An argument, which the state cannot refute.

Call for proposals for a national URL filtering and blocking system

Call for proposals for national filtering and blocking system

When a state embroils its citizens in an ‘either you are with us or against us’ argument every dissent is at risk of being equated to treason– or in an Islamic country, blasphemy. Therefore the most important key player in anti-censorship strategy is to steer the argument away from contentious issues. That’s not to say that civil rights should be surrendered but the narrative needs to more coherent, logical than it is defensive. The first response was todemand answers from the government, on what had provoked such a decision, if stakeholders were taken on board, if they are aware of the repercussions of such a system and a demand to take all stakeholders on board before any decision is made on the proposal.

Coordinating local and global action

As expected the calls for accountability from civil society were met with silence. Nevertheless, setting up the tone for the campaign; actively resistingthe impending firewall. The call for accountability also made it easier for us to approach political figures in power, who otherwise refrain from engaging with civil society campaigns that target the government proactively as their initial reaction.

The announcement also alarmed the global community to respond to Pakistan’s government. I believe this was and remains one of the most crucial part of the campaign. However, as international pressure was building up it was important to consider that advocacy campaigns do not exist in a vacuum, and take into account the cultural and geopolitical context. For example, countering a ban on blasphemous content with an argument on freedom of expression in a country like Pakistan is not only counterproductive but life threatening. Therefore, it was important to have a coordinated, global and local action.

Before the global community could be involved a few questions needed to be considered. When the government is using national security as an argument, is involving international community to demand an end to the decision a wise step? Especially, organizations based in the United States? Will a call to uphold democratic values by international organizations be discarded in the usual ‘we do not believe in you version of democracy’ fashion? Will international organizations shouting at the government uphold democracy, or help or make it easy for the state to curtail dissent by deeming them as western ploys?

Nevertheless, a global campaign, if organized and strategic, maximizes impact. The campaign needed to be simple, effective and widespread, giving priority to issues that would most concern the government:

  • Economic: Impact of censorship on businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation.
  • Academic: academic paralysis, with a rigorous filtering system, the Web sphere will be limited, hence it would mean less content accessible for carrying out research (example: UAE where in trying to censor porn, students could no longer access research papers on breast cancer).
  • Democratic culture: In a country where public discourse is limited, shrinking the public sphere will be damaging. With elections nearing, this could greatly impact the government’s claim to advance democracy.

For users:

  • Security & Privacy: It would permit authorities to sniff into your conversations. Blanket surveillance.
  • Social networks will not only be prone to surveillance but could be blocked just because another user has put up content that authorities consider ‘objectionable’.

Public discourse:

  • During the 2007 emergency imposed by Musharraf, the media crackdown resulted in an outpouring of information on social networks. These were actively used to mobilize people, spread information regarding police brutality on journalists and protesters and work as a news portal in the absence of mainstream media. Authorities recognize that this could be crucial in the future, hence complete control would enable them to censor political dissent.
  • A huge number of Baloch websites have already been blocked, and we have no reassurances or reasons to believe that a ‘flip flop’ switch for the Internet will not be used to silence mainstream voices. Imagine mainstream media websites being banned under the same pretext.

While it is important to build pressure on the government it is also crucial topressure international surveillance companies not to sell surveillance technology to authoritarian regimes. Civil society in Pakistan, urged international organizations to call for surveillance companies to not bid for the proposal, five out of eight companies responded with a commitment.

This, I believe has paved way for activists living under Internet crackdown and surveillance to pressure the companies to stop aiding authoritarian regimes. Similar letters were issued to academic institutes to commit not to consider the government’s initiative and inform them of the repercussions it will have on academia.

When international organizations wrote to the government informing them about the impact this could have on economy, academia, trade and democracy — highlighting democracy and freedom of expression only after the economy factor– the authorities had little choice but to respond. The tone had to be set through the mainstream media as well; hence a press kit with simply worded FAQs helped in getting the issue significant coverage in local press. Proactively approaching journalists resulted in the issue being covered even in the Urdu press, again the pertinent point here was informing the media how this could impact them and hence ‘owing the campaign’.

Current status

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of IT, made a verbal commitment to Bushra Gohar, Member National Assembly, that the plans for the filtering system have been shelved. Thus far there has been no official statement. However, the Ministry has made verbal commitments over the week, shifting the blameon the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. There’s both a positive and negative aspect of the situation at present: the negative being that the authorities are most likely to continue censoring covertly, and that the verbal commitment is a delaying tactic. It’s positive because of the apparent rift between government sectors and the reluctance to take the blame can only work in our favor.

I strongly feel that the campaign was a success because of consistent pressure from organizations globally. Even though we have still only received verbal commitments, I believe that the success lies in how we planned the campaign to focus on issues such as businesses, trade, academia and economy, steering the debate away from the more controversial issues of blasphemy.

Religion and morality are often used for unquestionable authority and have thus far been a successful tool. Rather than reacting to state’s use of these issues and creating an ‘either you are with us or against us situation’ we focused on things that really matter. When international organizations wrote to the government speaking about how it impacts academia, businesses, user privacy and democratic culture, the authorities had little choice but to reconsider the repercussions of such a system. There is no doubt that the success and power lies in coordinated, strategic and consistent efforts enabling us to truly respond as a global community resisting censorship.