Protecting freedom of speech

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November 3, 2007 marks as one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s democratic history. Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf violated the constitution to impose emergency and restrictions were placed on media while the judges who refused to take the dictator’s unconstitutional oath were placed under house arrest. Media and civil society at the time did not stop speaking truth to power and held several protest demonstrations against restrictions on free speech. It was due to this struggle that the then government had to restore the channels. Eleven years later, freedom of speech in Pakistan is once again under threat. Journalists who dare to report facts of ‘sensitive’ nature are intimidated by the powerful quarters. While extremist groups that have challenged the writ of the state time and again continue to get away with their crimes, journalists are slapped with treason charges merely for doing their job. Activities of ethnic groups which are critical of the state policies are blacked out by the mainstream media as part of self-censorship.
Journalists who do not toe the official line have to work under constant threat and intimidation. What is worse is that there is little to no resistance in the face of such blatant attempts to clampdown on free speech.
The difference between censorship during the dictatorial days and the clampdown that we are witnessing today, is that the latter is inconspicuous. Democratic system is in place but freedom of speech, which is one of the cornerstones of democracy, is being sabotaged. The need of the hour is to unite against the undemocratic forces which are responsible for the ongoing wave of censorship. Politicians should also extend support to the media and help protect the hard-earned freedom. It needs to be stated clearly that questioning the judiciary, the politicians and the armed forces is not treason. Instead of shooting the messenger, constructive commentary ought to be taken positively.