EXCLUSIVE: ‘The Rights Agenda’ with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari

Our reporter in Lahore, Haider Kaleem interviews the chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party & Standing Committee on Human Rights (National Assembly)



Haider Kaleem: What role will the Pakistan Peoples Party play in blocking the new social media regulations?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: We will definitely want to oppose these regulations. We have always opposed censorship and all efforts to control freedom of speech. When the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act rules were initially introduced, the Pakistan Peoples Party took a very clear stance in opposing the said legislation but at that time Mian Nawaz Shareef had two-thirds majority and if we would have let them use that majority to pass this legislation, we anticipated that it would have been much worse than this, therefore the Pakistan Peoples Party added its amendments to the law and tried watering it down.

However, the way in which the current government has bypassed rules and procedures by bypassing the parliament has resulted in such a draconian legislation which has led social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and other companies to say that they will wrap-up their operations in Pakistan. This will deprive our youth of different opportunities which in today’s time are intrinsically tied with the flow of information through the internet and social media. They will be deprived of job opportunities and other opportunities as well. Whatever steps this current government takes adversely affects not only our human rights and democratic rights but also our economic rights by curtailing access to economic opportunities.

These social media regulations and the way in which the government wants to control vlogs and blogs is something we strongly oppose through our votes in the Parliament, National Assembly, and Senate. However, the way they have gone about passing this current legislation for social media regulations we feel that we will have to approach the courts as well.

Haider Kaleem: As Chairman of the Human Rights Committee when will you move towards criminalising enforced disappearances, underage marriages, and marriages of young Hindu girls who have been forced to convert their religion? There is conversation around forced conversions but when do you think you will move for criminalisation of forced marriages of underage girls?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Forced conversions are not allowed in Islam and shouldn’t be allowed in the law as well. As far as legislation in Sindh is concerned, we have passed an underage marriage bill according to which anyone who is under 18 is now allowed to get married. While forced conversions are also a major issue, we also grapple with instances of underage marriage as well in Sindh.

When this bill was passed and the implementation phase began, the police started intervening under the stipulations of the law to stop child marriages. Unfortunately, very recently judgment from the Sindh High Court which goes against our law and needs to be reviewed. For that if we have to approach the supreme court, we will go the supreme court if/or we will have to draft further or another legislation, we will draft another legislation.

I believe criminalising enforced disappearances are a part of the PTI’s manifesto and is also a part of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s manifesto so they should support us in this matter. We raised this issue in the committee once or twice and the government responded that it would legislate this through its cabinet but we haven’t seen any progress on the matter yet.

In our last meeting some specific cases were raised and to question overall tradition of enforced, our committee members have decided to summon the Inspector Generals, Home Secretaries of all four provinces, and the head of the National Missing Person Commission. As far as the criminalisation of enforced disappearances is concerned, I believe that kidnapping is illegal according to the law of Pakistan and yes, we definitely need more legislation for the criminalisation of enforced disappearances in Pakistan but kidnapping your own citizens is already against the law in Pakistan.