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Hanzala Aman

The case of ABP News and the press freedom at large

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Only in the recent past, we have seen relentless attacks on NDTV and The Wire – two news agencies who have consistently taken the critical stance on the government. The latest addition comes with the resignation of ABP News’ managing director Milind Khandekar and anchor Punya Prasoon Bajpai. Bajpai was associated with ABP News’ flagship programme Masterstroke in which he had rebutted many of the government’s claim (and propaganda). Before, the resignation many people had reported the black-outs and glitches on the Network during the time Masterstroke aired. According to Tata Sky, Airtel DTH and a report by The Wire, the problem was in fact from the end of the channel it was deliberately done by the channel administrators. In the same report of The Wire, another journalist, Abhisar Sharma was ostensibly asked not to go against Modi and when he nevertheless went against this guideline, was asked to take 14 days to leave. The incident shows the amount of pressure the channel must have had. Other journalists who have spoken against the government such as Ravish Kumar and Rana Ayyub have been openly and repeatedly threatened with life. In Ayyub’s case, even the United Nation expressed concerns and asked the government to provide security to her. At the same time, many media organizations are pandering to the government’s agenda and often broadcast the programmes which are either praiseworthy of the government or those without any real agenda. It isn’t the surprise that India was ranked 138 on The World Press Freedom Index 2018, a deplorable ranking for a nation known as World’s largest Democracy.

We must, however, pay attention to two other phenomena related to press freedom. Firstly that attacks on press freedom in recent times is not limited to India and it must have been in the global context. Secondly, there is a direct relation in attacks on press to the unprecedented growth in the fake news.

With the rise of conservative right around the globe, a decreasing trend of press freedom can be evidently observed. Since the failed 2016 coup in Turkey, thousands of journalists have been jailed without (and in some cases with arbitrary) trials. After the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) won the parliamentary elections in Poland, the government has been using legislative, political, and economic means to get media submissive to its agenda and to limit its freedom. Much the same way as in India, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczyński has responded to the criticism of his government with the assertion that “most of our media are in German hands”. With the matter of Israeli government’s policies and its actions, even the progressive media, including The New York Times, have refrained from condemnation or have tried to shift blames on Palestinians. Last year, Saudi Arabia and UAE had blocked the Al Jazeera and it continues to do so. When it comes to Pakistan, it was, in fact, the Military establishment which had made tremendous pressures on the press, particularly The Dawn, to censor the News. Particularly intriguing is the case of the United States, a nation which swears on its first amendment which enshrines the freedom of speech in the constitution. Since the media in the US is too powerful to succumb to the pressure by the government; President Donald Trump has not only maintained the safe distance from the “liberal” media but has also verbally attacked and mocked it. In a recent tweet he called on media to be unpatriotic, “When the media-driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!”. Two experts from the UN even expressed the apprehension that President Trump’s attacks on the media may trigger violence against journalists. And that it is happening in the world’s most powerful nation is the most alarming reason to be afraid of.

Looking back at the sudden rise of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany, we notice the tremendous power of Print media and radio. After the Second World War, democratic nations actively promoted the progressive media to counter its negative implications. But in the wake of social media on which the information flow unchecked and freely, conservative forces have acquired tremendous power. The information which is mostly inaccurate tends to mostly favour the illiberal ideas in a way that a person doesn’t have any hard time proving them. According to a recently concluded study, fake news and false rumours reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories. As the fear of minority or aliens is intrinsic to the psychology of humans, people automatically incline towards the information- which fuels their biases- that might principally be untrue. The immensity of fake news can be fathomed by the spate of lynchings across the nation and how it has chiefly helped the conservative right (read government) in consolidating their voters’ support. This might be the reason that many people in the powerful positions support the peddlers of the fake news by either following them on the social media or by vocally supporting them. Social media helps the unrestricted flow of the information like no other form of media. It is the power of social media that emboldens the Conservative Right enough to freely attack the mainstream media.

At the World Economic Forum summit in Davos this year, the fake news was rightly treated as an urgent matter of global human rights. Lately, Facebook and Twitter have deleted millions of fake accounts, and have pledged to step up the fight against the fake news. Facebook, which also owns Whats App – a great source of misinformation, is planning to put in new strategies to counter fake news in association with Google. If the plans work out, mainstream “Liberal” media around the world, particularly under the conservative governments, should expect the increased attacks. And in case mainstream media has to go long way, it must stand with the weakest among them.

Hanzala Aman

Anathema of Pakistan Blasphemy Law

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Protests have engulfed the streets of various cities in Pakistan after Asia Bibi – a Christian woman on death row- was acquitted of Blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court. Protestors demand the decision to be revoked, have urged people to kill the Judge who has issued the verdict. Asia Bibi has been incarcerated for around 8 years and her case has had a significance effect on Pakistan’s politics. Since, the prevailing condition in the country was (and still is) quite antagonistic to those accused of Blasphemy, no one dared to touch her case. Despite the fact that she denied having blasphemed and prosecution failing to present credible witnesses, she was awarded death sentence by the trial court, which was later upheld by the High Court. Support to her cause has entailed two high profile killings in separate incidents – of then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and of Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti. Taseer was a severe opponent of Anti-Blasphemy Law and has called it a black law on many International forums and had also tried to move for Presidential Pardon to Asia Bibi. Having spent years in solitary confinement on false and flimsy charges, Asia Bibi wasn’t given any bail or allowed to meet any family member until 2015.

Asia’s case is among thousands of cases which have been charged on people across faiths particularly targeting minorities (who constitute just 3%) since the new law came into force in the year 1986 under the dictatorship of General Ziaul haq.  Between 1947 when Pakistan got its independence and 1986 the year that Section 295 was amended, only 14 cases of blasphemy were registered. New law which added the clauses to Sec 295 (an imperial legacy) increased the severity of punishment to long incarcerations and mandatory death penalty. The law has subsequently been used to harass minorities, seculars, liberals, dissenters, and in most cases to settle personal score and vendetta. It also remains a fact that the blasphemy law is against the basic tenets of Quran and the Islamic Law which essentially allow capital punishment only for murder, and spreading disharmony and terrorism. There are also many problems associated with the law which infringes the basic human right.

The law not only allows the incarceration of people but also threaten the lives of the accused in the jails and outside. It gives an impetus for the mob justice. According to estimates, no less than 60 people have lost their lives at the hands of fanatic individuals and the mob since the 1980s after they were accused of blasphemy. Only last year, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, Pakistan was lynched at the hand of the mob after being falsely accused of blasphemy.

Courts in Pakistan have admitted that most of the cases registered are false and baseless. Apart from hordes of false cases, many mentally ill people have been charged with the sacrilege. Because the judicial system in the country is incapable and weak to hear all the cases, people have been either been convicted arbitrarily or are waiting for the trial for years. A fair trial in most cases remains a distant mirage.

There are very few people who are willing to support the accused as no one wants to be seen standing with the blasphemers. Also, it threatens their own lives; of which assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are exemplary. Lawyers also tend to abstain from defending the accused. Back in 2014, a prominent lawyer and regional coordinator of the Humans Right Commission of Pakistan named Rashid Rehman was killed by gunmen after he refused to abandon his client Junaid Hafeez.

Condition with judges is no good either. Judgments in most cases depend on the attitude of the presiding judges, which makes it more dangerous. In Asia’s case, both the judges from Trial and High Courts didn’t pay any heed to her testimony or to the fact that evidences were insufficient. According to a 2015 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, judges are also often harassed and threatened to ensure that the suspects are convicted. Courtrooms in most cases are filled with angry crowds who chant slogans, which evidently influences the judgment. In other cases, it also affects the sentences of those convicted in the killing of blasphemy-accused. Judge Pervaiz Ali Shah had to flee the country for some days after he sentenced death penalty to Mumtaz Ali Qadri for the assassination of Salman Taseer.

As Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global issues has put it, “There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights and encourage people to take law into their own hands. Once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty, and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence.”

Main Problems with the Blasphemy Laws

Even if the data above were otherwise, can we really support Anti-Blasphemy Laws? These laws are extremely inhumane in nature and fringe upon the basic human rights of the people. The very first thing it does is violating the right to freedom of expression. No matter what the popular opinion of the people is, every individual must have the right to speak their minds which of course includes the right to offend. Every individual also has right not to be offended. Blasphemy or sacrilege doesn’t necessarily incite the violence but Anti-Blasphemy laws do. Taking offence is a relative thing which changes from one individual to another. Besides, all the countries have laws which restrict the incitement of violence and racial or religious hatred which are more than sufficient to contain any communal disharmony.

Blasphemy laws protect the religious people and institutions from different kind of criticism. For example, at some level, one cannot even criticize the misogynistic interpretations or principles of religions. Or say child marriages, genital mutilations, or the ban on inter-religious marriages. Many statutes around the world have defended members of religious institutions from being convicted of paedophilia or rapes.

It also limits any other interpretation of religions besides the established ones which infringe upon the freedom religion. Targeting minority sectarian groups within the religion can be the case in point.

Most importantly these laws tend to legitimize the communal and mob violence against individuals and groups. It also tends to legitimize the prosecution, targeting and silencing of the minorities.

Thus, it is imperative of the international community to push for the change in these laws in Pakistan. We, in India, must also oppose the September 2018 Punjab blasphemy laws.

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Hanzala Aman

Should we be fighting Pakistan?

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The question keeps reverberating time and again whether India and Pakistan can ever be friends. Whether the two nations, who would celebrate 72nd year of their independence, can ally with each other and turn the relation into something fruitful. For too long has the relation between the two-midnight children been internecine which has proved a great hindrance for the growth process on the both side of the border.

If we go back in history, particularly unfateful for Pakistan was the death of her founder Muhammad Jinnah, whom they call Quaid-e-Azam –the great leader. Symbolically he was perhaps one of the tallest leaders in the nationalist struggle for freedom of India. Most historians have the consensus that he was a secular leader whose ego cost India her incision. After the foundation of Pakistan, he had vowed to build a nation for all the communities, where everyone would be equal before the law. And he had wished for the relation between India and Pakistan akin to that of the United States and Canada divided by the border, united by the culture, and linked by strong economic ties and human relations. In fact, when India’s first High Commissioner to Pakistan, Sri Prakasa asked Jinnah what do of his Bombay house in Malabar Hills, he replied: `Sri Prakasa, don’t break my heart. Tell Jawaharlal not to break my heart. I have built it brick by brick. Who can live in a house like that? … You do not know how I love Bombay. I still look forward to going back there.”Nehru Agreed. It is clear that if Jinnah survived, Pakistan would have been in much better shape than it is now and her relation with India would have been much more amicable. But the fate had other plans.

Since its inception India and Pakistan have seen four major wars (none initiated by India) and many standoffs. Pakistani based terrorists carried out many terror activities in India and the infamous 2008 Mumbai attacks, and many militants regularly infiltrate India. Pakistan accuses India of exporting terrorism via Afghanistan and of supporting Tahreek Taliban Pakistan and other insurgent groups in Baluchistan. Where Pakistan regularly becomes the election rhetoric in India, a fear is created by Military establishments in Pakistan to influence foreign policies and to be allocated lion’s share of country’s GDP. In India, a significant part of its population is bullied in the name of Pakistan and denied their rights. In Pakistan, its population is starved of basic needs because of meagre GDP percentage that it has for non-security issues. Governments of both the countries hide their failure in each other’s name. Thus the fight between two neighbours doesn’t limit to borders but also affects the internal matters.

When it comes to the common people, they are misled by the propaganda that the governments create. Despite, that there is a deep connection, perhaps the nostalgic one. Hindustani music and language is admired and shared by both. Indian films are watched and loved all over Pakistan and the music from Pakistan is preferred to that of its own music in India. Both the nations are obsessed over cricket and compete on who produces better mango. There are more as the shared palate and shared ambitions than anything antagonistic.

Whether we Indians agree or not, despite all the terrorist activities, Pakistan has acted as a buffer zone from instability for us. During the whole cold war era, when Pakistan acquiesced to America’s imperialist vision, it paid heavily with its own loss and in the process largely containing the trouble in its borders. More insecure Pakistan is, more threatened we are. It is thus not a coincidence that with the start of democratization of Pakistan, the subcontinent has gradually moved towards peace.

As far as the economy in the two countries is concerned, it is in both countries’ interest to improve bilateral relation. We share a large part of the land border. India has unfortunately been unable to draw much of foreign investment. The United States has not only vowed to discontinue its aid to Pakistan, it has also levied additional import duties of USD 241 mn on steel and aluminium from India. Although, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going to bring investments to Pakistan, in a longer run it will suck out the country financially on a longer run. As much of the need in both our countries is the same, it will be beneficial to promote business between the two of us. Only if the two nations come together, can we really fulfil our dream of modelling SAARC as the European Union where everyone prospers?

It will perhaps take years for the two countries to be friends, but smaller steps can be taken in this direction. We should promote the export and import of art and artists. Visa process should be made easy since the terrorists don’t apply for it anyway. As Pakistan is going through its second democratic handover, although with the military intervention, our best bait would be supporting the further democratization of Pakistan. India can teach a lot to its neighbour of its experience with the process of democratization. A strong civilian government would mean the limited military interventions. We can and we must fight together to exterminate the menace of terrorism. We have more reasons to be friends than to fight. It is indeed a gradual process but not an impossible one.

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Hanzala Aman

Naya Pakistan: Democratic handover or military takeover?

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Pakistan

Pakistan has just finished its Nation Assembly Elections and it would see only the second democratic handover of the power in 71 years of its inception. This is being seen as the most anticipated one because of the several reasons. Pakistan has fought hard to achieve the peace and security, and democracy is flourishing in the country. This election has seen the involvement of the military, judiciary and intelligence institutions and a new electoral law is in the place. An interesting thing with the new law is the nullification of election results in a constituency where female vote count goes below 10%. Also, many hardline Islamist parties have been mainstreamed after they were allowed by the election commission to contest elections.

 Erstwhile Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – who was ousted by the supreme court in July 2017 on corruption charges and later barred from politics for life- had tried hard to make military subservient to the parliament and his government had repeatedly locked the horns with the military. Panama leaks had helped with the rise of the military–judicial institutional alliance and with a passive electoral engineering to resist PMN-L from coming back to power. Media was also intimidated and attacked by the establishment for criticizing the military role in meddling with the politics. The whole campaign was ruthless and was rattled by violence in which candidates of several parties were targeted. Even Islamic State seems to have had a stake in the elections as it claimed an attack in southwestern Baluchistan province, in which 149 people were killed, including a parliamentary candidate.

 The main opponent in the election and favourite to the establishment was Pakistan Tahrik Insaf (PTI) led by the former star cricketer Imran Khan. The results showed that PTI has won as many as 119- which is few short of a majority, needing only minor coalition to form the government.

Why it matters for India?

During the decades of troubles and insecurity in Pakistan, India too had been affected all along. During the past decade, as Pakistan has gone towards the stability and democracy has grown stronger, India too has seen a relatively calmer phase. Imran Khan, who promised of a “Naya Pakistan”, is expected to swear oath soon. It is none but him who should be taken more seriously than Nawaz Sharif. Not only that he has been allegedly colluding with the military, he is being seen romancing with Islamist leadership in Pakistan. What’s more disturbing is his political trajectory from a liberal politician to a fervent nationalist one. In his visit to India in 2012, which was before previous general elections, he projected himself as a promising leader in which India could have hopes. He talked of limiting military interventions, disengaging from the wars and even seemed willing to acknowledge the evidence of 2008 Mumbai Attacks if he came to power. Fast forward to the campaigns of 2018 election, although he abstained from discussing foreign policies he showed signs of Anti-India sentiments.

As a Prime Minister Elect, Khan has not only vowed to root out corruption and uplift the poor but also projected himself as an iconoclast by swearing to use a modest office instead of a “palace”. In terms of foreign policy, he has already indicated further improving the ties with China and bringing in the investment. This would definitely mean further militarization of CPEC which is definitely against Indian interest. He has put India in the last among the several countries he discussed the foreign policy, which indicates his restraint when it comes to India. He talked about solving the Kashmir issue, claiming the high number of Human Rights Violation from the Indian side. On the issues of terrorism, much tactfully, he demanded of India to relinquish blame game and establish an amicable relationship with other and to fight poverty together. He has long to go to prove that his government is not a pawn for the military establishment and that it is indeed a democratic handover and not a closeted military take over as the world stipulates.

In the coming days when a new government will be formed in our neighbour, we cannot much expect independent talks with the elected government. Khan mentioning Kashmir in his maiden speech further makes it difficult to have a meaningful diplomatic talk. With the new government in Pakistan and India gearing up for the general elections in less than a year, we can but only wait and watch how the relation between the two neighbours would be – amicable or hostile.

 

Disclaimer:

Hanzala Aman is a columnist writing for HW News Network.  The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

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