Mr Shafi Naqi Jamai, a renowned scholar, senior BBC journalist and presenter of the BBC’s flagship Urdu news program Sairbeen recently interviewed former head of Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association and a prominent human rights activist Ms Asma Jahangir in which he asked her view over Lahore High Court’s decision to impose a blanket media ban on MQM founder and leader Mr Altaf Hussain.
(Here is Urdu translation of that interview…)
BBC: What targets are being sought by banning Altaf Hussain’s voice, speeches, addresses, pictures or footages in the (Pakistani) media? Has there ever been a precedence of any such ban? And if there are rights for those who have placed the ban…or the (Pakistan’s powerful) Establishment, then don’t MQM followers have rights, too? Where are those rights?
I spoke to the former head of Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association and a prominent human rights activist Ms Asma Jahangir about this.
Asma Jahangir: Well, I have never heard of such an order where the courts said that such and such (individual) is not allowed (to appear) in the media. This is not the job of courts (to pass such orders) unless someone is using the media to issue threats…and it becomes imminent (apparent) that someone’s (appearance in media) would cause terror. It is beyond imagination to stop a leader of a political party (from appearing in the media). I believe this type of politics should end now. Our Establishment doesn’t understand that if you remove political parties from this country, then this country would disintegrate. Neither this (Pakistan) army can keep the country intact nor could its bureaucracy. The country is intact because of these political parties.
BBC: Has there ever been a precedence of any such ban…newspaper ban…TV ban…live coverage ban…this ban…total boycott…ban whatever one may want to?
Asma Jahangir: This has been a tradition here (in Pakistan)…poetry used to be black listed in the past. Until Ms Benazir Bhutto came in power in 1988, people like us never had a chance to hear our voice on TV and radio. (Prominent anti-Establishment poet) Faiz Ahmad Faiz was never heard (on radio and TV). The world got the chance to listen to his voice (on radio and TV) only after he passed away. So, how would you talk of freedom of journalism or freedom of speech or (freedom of) media?
BBC: I am trying to view (this ban) through both legal and ethical perspectives, Madam Asma. Should we accept that the Establishment or the courts had the right to do what they deemed appropriate within their jurisdiction, then what about those people who are the followers of a party (MQM), they too have rights. What about those rights?
Asma Jahangir: Absolutely right, true…you are right. It is their (followers’) right. I agree with you that such bans, gagging orders, (in the past) were placed by either the Establishment or the dictators but the courts never placed such restrictions. But now the courts too are following the ongoing narrative (of the Establishment). I believe it is unjust. However, his (Mr Altaf Hussain’s media ban) case is still under trial and is ‘sub judice’. A review (of the gagging order) is a possibility. I can’t say any more than this.
BBC: So, this looks like a matter of push comes to shove…I’m talking about the followers (of MQM), that what options are they left with except protest? If they want to listen to their leader, but his pictures, his voice and his live press conferences are not allowed (in media), then what (these followers) would do?
Asma Jahangir: I have already humbly stated that this is an appalling (court) decision. What more could I say than this? This decision has shredded fundamental human rights into pieces. What else could I say over this ruling?
BBC: Right, right!!! This ongoing trend is creating an impression that military circles are being given preference over civilian leadership. Isn’t this (gagging order against Mr Hussain) a part of shift in this direction?
Asma Jahangir: It’s not just an impression of preference…in fact, I believe that our Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) is seldom visible (in major national policy matters) and it is our military leadership that issues statements over policy issues. They (military leadership) is running the policy now. They are also running the media. And, to some extent, they are also running the Parliament. Thankfully, some courts…Supreme Court, is (still) above (out of their control). But it is not known what will happen in future. As for others, no one speaks over these matters. What will be the state of the country that celebrates wars?