South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The News on 02nd Aug. : By Murtaza Ali Shah ::
LONDON: Renowned lawyer and human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir says the forcible shutdown and ostracization of Geo TV Network in Pakistan is an attack on journalism and represents the severe challenge facing the media in Pakistan.

She was speaking at the Law Society to a distinguished audience of lawyers and academics on the topic of ‘Law, Gender and Religion’ in Pakistan.Speaking to The News, Asma Jahangir said everyone in and out of Pakistan, including the opponents and rivals of Geo, thought that the continuing shutdown of Geo was not only a problem for Geo but also an attack on all forms of journalism.

She said those ostracizing Geo through their power should understand that in a democracy “the media has a place and an important role to play”.“If you are angry or upset with Geo or any other channel, there are legal avenues to explore. Using violence and illegal means is not the way forward.”

Asma Jahangir said what’s happening in Gaza showed the failure of the international law and order as well as the failure of Islamic countries to do anything about stopping the violence against defenceless civilians.

But, she said, the crisis exposed that there was no Ummah as there were ‘several Islamic countries with the same religion but their own interests to follow”. “You don’t have to be a Muslim or non-Muslim to denounce what’s happening to Palestinians in Gaza. It’s about humanity. What is happening there is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter who you are and whether you are from the East or the West and whatever your religion is. You just have to be human to condemn what Israel is doing to innocent civilians.”

Asma Jahangir said the situation of human rights in Pakistan remained dire, especially for the minorities that had no recourse to justice at the mainstream level.“Our leadership is not doing anything against the extremists and those who kill and maim Pakistanis from minority background. They either remain silent or issue meaningless statements. We kill our minorities, vandalize their places of worship and don’t care for them. Our politicians are more interested in long marches and making big promises but they are terrified of terrorists and don’t speak against barbarism in the manner they should. Nothing will change unless this situation changes.”

Asma Jahangir presented an overview of the situation faced by women and different sections of the society. She said women were the victims of wars and internal displacements as shown in the case of IDPs in Pakistan. She said their lives were miserable as they faced several issues locally and at the country level. She said the way different vulnerable sections were treated, an impression was sent out as if they were not valued.

She said a large section of the society continued to justify violence against women in the name of religion. She narrated how she fought several cases on behalf of women who stood against unjust social customs and took a stand for their beliefs.

“I won these cases but not for my clients because I won but they eventually left the country; they couldn’t stay in Pakistan.”The former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that military dictators always used religion to advance their rule and interests and as a result the country got polarized and religiously radicalized.

She, however, opined that Pakistan’s case was different as compared to a large number of Islamic countries where, unlike Pakistan, the voices for rights are not strong and the level of resistance to oppressive actions was weak. She hoped that Pakistan’s civil society will continue to be vocal and will not give up.