Wednesday, March 4, 2020

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#Pakistan - The delay in screening of Zindagi Tamasha exposes how we have become hostage to bigots

PEOPLE want to live in a society where they enjoy the freedom of thought and action and can exercise their right to speak out. Unfortunately, there is now an attempt to roll back these fundamental rights. We are witnessing an alarming rise of bigotry in society that is undermining democratic values. The strengthening of religious extremism not only weakens democratic institutions but also divides the country. One such example is the recent suspension of the release of an international award-winning Pakistani film under the pressure of a radical cleric.
The government’s retraction of the permission to screen Zindagi Tamasha gave certain religious elements a greater sense of empowerment. The move was yet another blow to the already shrinking freedom of expression. The assertion of authority by religious extremist groups is also manifested in the attempt by a radical cleric to seize control of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. It brings back memories of the 2007 incident that led to the bloody military operation. The policy of appeasement shows that the government has not learnt any lesson from the past. It is yet another reminder that the state is being held hostage by bigots.
Meanwhile, the demand by some religious groups to ban the Aurat March that has become a symbol of struggle for women rights in this country is also an attempt to undermine fundamental rights. Accusing women activists of spreading ‘obscenity’ and ‘vulgarity’, the self-appointed guardians of so-called morality have threatened to stop women’s rights rallies on International Women’s Day to be observed on March 8.
Growing religious extremism presents the biggest threat to freedom of expression.
Leading the pack is Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the JUI-F, who has called upon his followers to use whatever means at their disposal against the participants. Ironically, the crafty maulana had recently led a march on Islamabad for the ‘restoration of democracy’. Sadly, many liberals had jumped onto his bandwagon declaring him a ‘champion of democracy’.
Going back to the film produced by Sarmad Khoosat, one of Pakistan’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Zindagi Tamasha premiered internationally last year and had been cleared by the federal and provincial censor boards for release in the country. The film was awarded the top fiction prize at the Busan International Film Festival. But days before it was to hit Pakistani cinema screens, the government gave in to the threat issued by the head of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the notorious cleric who had recently faced terrorism charges. Its expected release was stopped and the film was sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology for review. It is the first time in the country’s history that a film already passed by the official censors now has to be cleared by a body that has no such authority.
A spokesman for the TLP described the film as being ‘blasphemous’ and threatened to launch a countrywide protest to stop it from being screened. Interestingly, the censor boards that reviewed it twice didn’t find any objectionable content in the film.
Blasphemy allegations are handy tools for bigots who want to silence rational voices. The film has simply depicted hypocrisy in the name of religion. It carries a strong message against the growing intolerance that is now so deeply entrenched in our society. The protest against an internationally acclaimed film is also a manifestation of a regressive mindset that the film itself has effectively portrayed.
These religious bigots are afraid of being exposed. It is alarming that violent extremist elements have gained strength largely because of the weakness of the state. It seems that we have learnt no lessons from the past. Growing religious extremism presents the biggest threat to freedom of expression and the democratic process. Most dangerous, however, is the impunity that some of the violent extremist groups enjoy.
The state’s policy of appeasement has further emboldened radical clerics like Rizvi who was released from detention. He had been arrested for provoking violent protests against the Supreme Court’s decision to free Aasia Bibi who suffered years in jail because of a concocted case of blasphemy against her.
It is intriguing how terrorism cases against him have been dropped. He has now returned to his vitriolic sermons. But the law does not swing into action against him — maybe because of the patronage of some strong elements within the establishment.
Sarmad Khoosat, his family and team have reportedly been subjected to threats and bullying by TLP goons. In an open letter to the prime minister, the renowned filmmaker who has been associated with the Pakistani film industry for over two decades described the torment he was going through.
Khoosat rightly pointed out that “like any other film, made in any other part of the world, Zindagi Tamasha is a reflection of its setting”. But there has been a deafening silence from the government over the ordeal of the brilliant artist who has won laurels for the country through his work.
The tacit ban on the screening of Zindagi Tamasha is hardly an isolated instance. It is a manifestation of a larger problem of shrinking space for rational and progressive voices. There is strong resistance from right-wing groups to any move that is intended to shake up the existing order. While there is unannounced censorship on progressive literature, the religious extremists have been given a free hand.
It’s such a pity that a film that has earned international acclaim cannot be watched at home. Banning films is a manifestation of a culture that is afraid to face the truth. We have a long history of suppressing dissenting views perceived as posing a threat to the prevailing order. The space for reason and freedom of expression is further shrinking thanks to growing authoritarianism and rising bigotry in society.
Democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression and equal rights for all segments of society. There is a need for a joint effort to deal with this rising menace that threatens the national fabric.

How YouTube has become a refuge for Pakistani journalists battling censors


YouTube is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for reporters facing one of the harshest media crackdowns in Pakistan’s 72-year history.

For Pakistani journalists, there’s only one channel that doesn’t exercise the mute button when they report difficult stories that involve their government or the country’s powerful military: YouTube.
The video-sharing social media giant is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for reporters facing one of the harshest media crackdowns in Pakistan’s 72-year history.
One of them is Syed Talat Hussain, who quit Geo television — the country’s largest broadcaster — after he was told his programs were too critical of the army and the government.
“Hunting down dissidents and demonizing critics as traitors was always part of the media landscape, but the scale, audacity and scope of it we see now remains unprecedented,” said Hussain. “Pakistan’s media faces deep, structural constraints that translate into crippling censorship.”
Once a vocal advocate of free media, Prime Minister Imran Khan is increasingly frustrated with criticism of his government and its handling of the economy. At the same time, the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its seven-decade history, is expanding its control over foreign and security policies and playing a greater role in economic strategy.
Under pressure over rising inflation and unemployment, the former cricket star has taken to calling any media critical of his policies the “mafia.” Still, Khan cannot afford to be distracted as he struggles to stabilize the economy after taking a $6 billion International Monetary Fund bailout last year and stave off Pakistan being placed on a global anti-money laundering agency blacklist.

Military Muscle

Media freedom has always been challenged in the South Asian nation, where the military has repeatedly obstructed democratic rule and tried to muzzle dissenting voices. In the 1980s, journalists were jailed and beaten, while newspapers were censored during the Martial Law imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988. In 2007, the former president and General Pervez Musharraf, who ruled from 1999 to 2008, banned all television channels for a few weeks.
Khan’s army-backed government is intensifying the crackdown.
The curbs pushed Hussain to start his own YouTube channel where he now posts regular bulletins. The popular journalist has 103,000 subscribers to his channel and some 3.3 million Twitter followers.
So far Khan’s administration has made no move to censor YouTube content. Pakistan has briefly banned the video-sharing platform in the past, most notably in September 2012 after protests against “Innocence of Muslims,” a film viewed as anti-Islam. Islamabad’s neighbor and ally China bans access to Youtube and countries like Thailand and Malaysia have in the past either censored content or asked for it to be taken down.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in January banned Kashif Abbasi, an anchor at ARY News television channel, generally considered a pro-government news outlet, for three months after the regulator said his program sought to “debase and demean” the military.
An interview of the opposition leader and former President Asif Ali Zardari was taken off a few minutes after it was broadcast on Geo television in November. The reporter Hamid Mir blamed censorship by unidentified authorities. A week later, a televised interview of opposition leader Maryam Nawaz, who is also the daughter of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was taken off air midway without any reasons.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, a special assistant to the prime minister on information, said at a press conference the media regulator banned interviews with Zardari and Maryam because convicts were not allowed on TV. Both Zardari and Maryam are being tried for corruption in anti-graft courts.
Awan didn’t respond to calls from Bloomberg seeking comment.
“If you disagree with them, they take it as an attack on security interests,” Muhammad Ziauddin, a 50-year-veteran journalist and former editor of The Express Tribune and Dawn newspapers said, referring to the army and the government. “The situation is very bad. There is self-censorship” as well. Khan accuses Geo TV and Dawn, the country’s most read English language newspaper, of being biased against his government.

Silencing Media

Ziauddin said his voice was muted at least 10 times during a television talk show because he was critical of the army’s intervention in politics and the government.
The military denies any role in curbs on media, while the ministers say the measures are being taken by the media regulator without any interference from the authorities.
Still, Reporters Without Borders has lowered Pakistan’s ranking by three points to 142 out of 180 in 2019, placing it behind Afghanistan, Myanmar and South Sudan in the free media index, while Amnesty International is concerned about human rights activists and students being targeted. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the top media-representative body, and press clubs across the country are protesting against censorship.
But it is not just censorship that’s worrying Pakistan’s media.
Journalists continue to be at risk of threats, kidnapping, and murder, while some have sought asylum in other countries. At least 33 journalists were killed in the past six years and so far, no one has been arrested or tried for their murders, according to Freedom Network, a Pakistan-based media rights watchdog.
At least three journalists spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they fear backlash from security agencies. They reported receiving WhatsApp messages from military officials on reporting guidelines. If they don’t comply, they get angry calls, or visits by security officials or a social media campaign will be generated that brands them as “traitors.”
“In the past, there were some rules, clear red-lines and we knew who is on the other side,” Ziauddin said. “Now we don’t know who is doing it.”- 

جب بھی سلیکٹڈ حکومت آتی ہے ادارے بکنے لگتے ہیں، بلاول

پیپلز پارٹی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے کہا ہے کہ جب بھی سلیکٹڈ حکومت آتی ہے کم قیمت میں ادارے بکنے لگتے ہیں ، اگر مشرف ادارے نہیں بیچ سکے تو کٹھ پتلی بھی نہیں بیچ سکے گا۔
لاہور میں تقریب سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے چیئرمین پی پی نے کہا کہ جن اداروں میں محنت کشوں کا خون پسینہ شامل ہے اُن کی نج کاری نہیں ہونے دیں گے۔
بلاول بھٹو نے کہا کہ مزدوروں کو کوئی ایمنسٹی اسکیم یا بیل پیکج نہیں ملتا جبکہ آئی ایم ایف کے ساتھ بیٹھ کر مزدوروں کے حقوق پر سودے بازی کی جاتی ہے۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ یہ لوگ پھر کہتے ہیں کہ حکومت صحیح سمت میں ترقی کر رہی ہے۔
چیئرمین پی پی نے کہا کہ ہم عوامی حکومت بنائیں گے اور مزدوروں کو ان کے حقوق واپس دلائیں گے جبکہ تمام اداروں میں مزدوروں کو حصہ دار بنائیں گے ۔
بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے کہا کہ ہماری حکومت آئے گی تو دیکھیں گے کیسے نج کاری ہوتی ہے۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ ان 15 ماہ سے پہلے پانچ سالوں میں مزدوروں کے حقوق پر حملے کیے جارہے تھے، پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی اور تمام جماعتوں کی سوچ میں فرق ہے جبکہ پیپلز پارٹی کا لیبر وزیر واقعی مزدوروں سے تعلق رکھتا ہے۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ مزدور کی کم از کم تنخواہ اتنی ہونی چاہیے کہ نہ صرف گھر چل سکے، تعلیم اور علاج کا خرچ اٹھایا جاسکے۔
بلاول بھٹو نے کہا کہ ضیا آمر نے مزدوروں سے جو حق چھینا، شہید محترمہ نے پہلے دن یونین سازی کا حق واپس کیا جبکہ مشرف دور میں یونین سازی کا حق چھینا گیا، پھر ہم نے واپس کیا۔