The top journalists and rights activists of Pakistan are accused of treason in a petition before the Supreme Court of Pakistan for allegedly undermining the message of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Iqbal, the Two-Nation Theory, the ideology of Pakistan and Islam ‘at the behest of India’.
Fighting back: Activists of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) hold candles and placards during a protest against the killing of Pakistani lawyer Rashid Rehman in Islamabad on May 8. Pic/AFP
The petition was filed by notorious conspiracy theorist Zaid Hamid. Those accused are Hamid Mir, Najam Sethi, Imtiaz Alam, Asma Jahangir, Nusrat Javeed, Sirmed Manzoor, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar and Hassan Nisar, among others.
While no one needs a certificate of patriotism, it is important to know why these people are considered ‘dangerous’ by zealots, bigots and self-proclaimed ‘patriots’.
Hamid Mir recently survived an assassination attempt. He had received threats from the ISI. Najam Sethi has been under threat from both state and non-state actors for his brave and rational political analysis.
Asma Jahangir has been at the forefront of human rights advocacy and has consequently received threats from various quarters over the decades.
Beena Sarwar has come under fire for her association with ‘Aman ki Asha’, a peace-with-India initiative by the Jang Group. Imtiaz Alam has been attacked in the past for raising his voice against 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Alam, Nusrat Javeed and Sirmed Manzoor are office-bearers of South Asia Free Media Association and are hence labelled ‘traitors’ because of SAFMA’s advocacy for regional peace. Marvi Sirmed, a human rights activist and peacenik, is vocal against both state and non-state actors.
Such a preposterous petition should have been mocked out of court. Instead, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the ridiculous charges made by a man of dubious credentials by actually admitting the petition. Zaid Hamid was accused by his former assistant, Emaad Khalid, of instigating mutiny in the lower ranks of the military despite being on the payroll of the ISI. Khalid provided detailed evidence to this effect, yet no action was taken against Hamid.
It seems that being a peacenik in Pakistan is highly treasonous. SAFMA as an organisation and other individuals propagating peace with India are being accused of ‘treason’ by the likes of Zaid Hamid precisely because of this reason. Labelling someone as an ‘Indian agent’ is nothing new but in a country where journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and other progressive people can be killed in the name of religion and/or national security, is highly dangerous. On Wednesday — the same day this petition was admitted — human rights defender and lawyer Rashid Rehman was gunned down in Multan. He was defending a blasphemy accused. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Rehman was “openly threatened by prosecution lawyers in the Multan District Prison in the presence of a judge ... The judge, it was reported, did not take any notice of threats issued to Rashid in his presence”.
By admitting Mr Hamid’s petition, has the honourable Supreme Court seemingly legitimised incitement to violence? Or is the court seeking an opportunity to scold and mock the petitioner before throwing the petition out?
The journalists in the line of fire are not amused. But they are certainly itching to use the SC platform to enlarge the debate on what constitutes national interest, what is the ideology of Pakistan and who is a traitor and who a patriot.
About time these issues were openly debated.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org