Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hasan are once again under fire, this time for the chapter on Pakistan in HRW’s World Report 2013.
The military’s public relations department issued a scathing press release denouncing HRW. It said, “A spokesman of ISPR [Inter Services Public Relations] has termed the Human Rights Watch (HRW) recent report a pack of lies, propaganda driven and totally biased. He said it is yet another attempt to malign Pakistan and its institutions through fabricated and unverified reports, completely favouring an anti Pakistan agenda.”
The military’s anger at HRW was due to the fact that its annual report mentioned how the military has turned a blind eye to Shia genocide in the country. As per HRW’s report, “The government was unable or unwilling to break the links between Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies with extremist groups. Sunni militant groups, including those with known links to the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, operated openly across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials turned a blind eye to attacks. The government took no significant action to protect those under threat or to hold extremists accountable.”
ISPR’s reaction was predictable and so was the reaction from Pakistan’s largest media group, the Jang Group. The reports/analyses published in Daily Jang and The News against HRW were full of personal attacks against Ali Dayan Hasan. These so-called ‘news reports’, ‘news analysis’ and the ones printed in the past by Mr Ahmad Noorani on HRW have accused Mr Hasan of testifying “against Pakistan” in the US Congressional hearing on Balochistan where he [Hasan] “repeatedly mentioned the cause of independence of Balochistan” as per these reports despite the fact that Mr Hasan clearly stated before the US Committee that HRW does not take any position on the issue of self-determination of Balochistan.
Such false accusations against a person living in Pakistan can be quite dangerous. As such, it is not easy being a human rights activist in our country but when one is accused of being part of some campaign to Balkanise Pakistan, it is a matter of serious concern. The media must not be party to incitement to violence but some sections of our media do not pay heed to media ethics. Mr Noorani and his media group have put Mr Hasan’s life at risk. Instead of apologising for their biased commentary, they have instead accused HRW of launching a campaign against the media. They are forgetting that during General Pervez Musharraf’s emergency, HRW raised the issue of Pakistani media including the Jang Group being gagged by the military dictator.
It is important for media outlets to maintain their independence but some sections of Pakistani media collude with the military establishment to undermine independent voices. We saw it recently in the case of Asma Jahangir when her detractors launched a dirty tricks campaign against her in the media. The same is now being done in the case of Ali Dayan Hasan.
If the military and its mouthpieces in the media think they can silence such voices by spreading lies about them, they are in for a surprise. People of integrity like Ms Jahangir and Mr Hasan are not going to stop telling the truth come what may. Those outside Pakistan may not understand the risks our brave human rights defenders take by stating the truth but we, the people of Pakistan, know what they are up against. We salute their courage and stand with them in their fight against injustice.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org