Curbing the freedom of expression in GB
By: Israruddin Israr
Assistant Commissioner Gilgit issued a show cause notice to in-charges of three local newspapers of Gilgit Baltistan e.g. Daily k2, Daily Ausaf and Daily Kargil on 26th January 2017 and summoned them in the court of sub divisional magistrate on 30th January 2017alleging them for publication of provocative, inflammatory and hatred contents in their issues of 17th January 2017.
Gilgit press club, union of journalists Gilgit, Gilgit Baltistan Newspapers Society and Editors Forum Gilgit declared it a revengeful act of provincial Govt. of Gilgit Baltistan against the regional media. According to their statements the local administration takes revenge because of local media’s active role in high lighting the corruption, bad governance and mismanagement of sitting Govt. and statements of opposition parties. The unions and representative bodies of journalists condemned the act of local administration and they staged a protest rally from Itehad chowk to Chief Secretary Office Gilgit and submitted a resolution in the office of Mr. Tahir Hussain Chief Secretary Gilgit Baltistan. The journalists dispersed when Ahsan Bhutta Home secretary Gilgit Baltistan assured them on behalf of Chief Secretary that the administration will conduct an inquiry into the matter.
On 24th January 2017 a written show cause notice was issued by the deputy commissioner Ghanche to the chief editor of Daily Naqarra threatening to cancel his declaration if he didn’t tender apology and explian the causes regarding the publication of a letter to the editor by a female student of Gilgit Baltistan. The open letter was written to the editor of Daily Naqarra adressing the Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan by Alia Baig a student from Gilgit Baltistan currently residing in Karachi. The letter was published by Daily Naqarra on 07th January 2017.
In her letter Alia Baig had demanded from the Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan to conduct an inquiry into the matter of allegedly involvment of influencial miniters, politicians and members of Gilgit Baltistan legislative assembly in women treficking for the purpose of sexual pexliotation. This news of women treficking has spread a havoc among the parents of female students who have left their native cities and villages of Gilgit Baltistana and now are living different hostel in different cities of Pakistan, far away from their homes for study.
After the publication of letter the cabinet division of Gilgit Baltistan wrote to the deputy commisioner Ghanche to take cation against Daily Naqarra. The deputy commissoner issued a written show cause notice to the chief editor and publisher of above mentioned newspaper and threatned him that if he didn’t tender apology on the matter then the declartion of newsaper would be cancelled and he will be booked in charges of cyber crime as well. The represenative bodies of journalists declared it a revenge from Gilgit Baltistan Govt. they staged protest and demanded to withdraw the notice. The matter is still on pending.
On 05th January 2017, Shafiullah a Chilas based reporter published a story about the corruption and mismanagement of livestock department Diamer in a regional newspaper. Because many cattle’s were expired due to viral infections and the veterinary doctor of livestock department was unaware about the situation. As the cattle’s are only source of income for the majority population of mountain community of Diamer. The victim Shafiullah was ealier threatened to kill if he didn’t give up the reporting against the live stock depratment. Later on he was attacked by four persons identified themselves the realatives of Dr. Sadeeq Shah a veterinary doctor in department of live stock Diamer. The victim got injured due to beating with sticks and stones by attackers. He was shifted to the district head quarter hospital Chilas. He was discharged after the initial treatment. Police arrested the culprits and later on a local jirga intervened into the matter and after the patch up between two parties the culrpits were released.
10th January 2017 , Majeed Ahmar a local journalist and reporter of Daily Salam Gilgit Baltistan was threatened by Station House Officer city police station Gilgit to shoot him in Bazar. On the day of incident Majeed went to police station to submit a complaint regarding his a business dispute with a shopkeeper. The SHO city police station refused to register FIR. Majeed asked the SHO that if he didn’t register FIR then he would complaint to police high ups . Then Zhoor Ahmed tharetened the Majeed to kill him in a police encounter. The SHO further stated that the reporter had published a story against city police station in his newspaper Daily Salam that’s why he would not entertian his complaint. SHO said ” If you dont give up the reporting against police you would be booked in fake charges of crime and will be killed in a police encounter. Later on Ahmar received many phone calls from the relatives of SHO and police personels from city police station. They all were threatening him. They warned him if he didn’t give up his compaign against the SHO he would face dire consquenses.
Then the incident was high lighted by regional and social media, meanwhile SHO reached Gilgit press club and requested to interven into the matter for reconciliation. Press club intervened in to the matter and the both parties patched up. But Majeed Ahmar still feels insecure because he is not ready to trust on police.
In 2016 three regional newspapers of Gilgit Baltistan namely Daily Baang e Sahar, Daily Baang and Broshaal times were banned and its chief editor Doulat Jan was arrested blaming him to support the separatist’s nationalist party in the region and those nationalist parties allegedly gain monitory support from Indian intelligence agency (RAW) to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). According to the legal counsel of Doulat Jan Mathal, he was severely tortured during interrogation by police. Now he is in District Jail Gilgit. Before his arrest Mr. D J Mathal had received life threats and threats for cancellation of declaration from Ghulam Muhammad Ex- Member Gilgit Baltistan Legislative assembly and sitting provincial vice president of PLM (N) Gilgit Baltistan. The newspaper had published the statement of Ghulam Muhammad on 06th January 2015 while he had made it during his election campaign with students of GB studying in Rawalpindi. He later on had informed the chief editor of newspaper that the story was published without his permission. Then the newspaper had published an apology but the supporters of Ghulam Muhammad had been continually threatening D.J. Mathal even after the publication of apology through telephone, e-mail and on social media.
Shabir Siham is a reporter in daily times he belongs to Gilgit Baltistan but he lives in Islamabad. He published a story reagarding the human trafficking of women for the purpsoe of sexual exploitation in Daily times Islamabad on 27th Nov 2016. He alleged the provincial ministers , some politicians and bereaucrats for their involvment in the human trafficking. After the publication of story the deputy director information department Gilgit Baltistan asked victim to publish the clarification and tender apology but the reporter refused to obey him. According to the reporter a senior bureaucrat allegedly threatening him face to face, on phone and through SMS and forced him to pardon publicly. The reporter informed the concern authorities about the threats but no action was taken yet. Instead of taking action against the perpetrators the provincial home department published an advertisment in local newspapers on 20th January 2017 and threatened the above mentioned reporter that if he didn’t appear before the inquiry committee headed by Ahsan Bhutta home secretary GB on till 27th January 2017 then he would face partial action against him. The committee was constituted by provincial Govt. of GB to conduct an inquiry into the matter of women trefficking for sexual purposes in the light of the story published by Shabir Sayam in Daily Times.
Ealier on 06th September 2016 Mr. Essa Haleem a Gilgit Based senior journalist and columnist was threaten to kill by Jafarullah Khan deputy speaker Gilgit Baltistan legislative assembly owing to his write-ups on China Pakistan Economic corridor and failure of Gilgit Baltistan provincial Govt. in protection of the economic rights of Gilgit Baltistan. Later on when media represenative bodies raised voice against the incident then deputy speaker came in Gilgit Press Club and tendered his apology on threatening a senior jouranlsist.
HRCP Gilgit Baltistan has been monitoring eight catogaries of human rights violations in the region for last five years. The attack or explicit threats gainst human rights defenders/ Jouranlsist is one of those human rights violations which have been monitoring closely. HRCP Gilgit office received total 21 reports of threats or attack against human rights defenders and journalists from all over ten distrcits of Gilgit Baltistan from January 2016 to Jnauary 2017. The month wise comparative figures of 2016 regarding the threats received by human rights defenders and jouranlists in Gilgit Baltistan are as follow. As 02 reports were received in March 2016, 05 reports in June 2016, 01 report in July 2016, 03 reports in September 2016, 02 reports in Nov 2016, 04 reports in December 2016, 04 report in Jnauary 2017.
Only in one month, January 2017, four reports of attack or explicit threats against human rights defenders or journalists have been received to HRCP Gilgit office. This trend is new in the region. It is alarming that the Govt. and concern authorities are involved in threatening the journalists in the region. In-spite of that the constitution of Pakistan categorically guarantees the right to freedom of expression and right to information in its article 19 and 19/A. And same guarantees have been given in UDHR and other international conventions as most of them have been signed by Pakistan.
Article 19 of The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the Freedom of speech, etc. as “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence”.
Article 19/ (A) of The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the Right to information as “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”.
Article 11 of the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 guarantees freedom of speech as “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the security of area Gilgit Baltistan, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of Court, commission of, or incitement to an offence”.
Article 19 of Universal declaration of human rights , articles 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , articles 12 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child , articles 13 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child , article 13 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families , Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also discuss the right to freedom of expression and opinion.
In-spite of above mentioned international human rights instruments and a guarantee of Constitution of Pakistan and GB empowerment and self-governance order 2009 the Govt. has failed to check the curbing the right to freedom of expression, speech and opinion in Gilgit Baltistan.
The writer is a Gilgit based freelance journalist, columnist and human rights activist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org