August 12, 2020
A group of publishers, booksellers, and writers has given a statement condemning the draconian Tahaffuz-e-Islam Bill (TIB), terming it an attack on the constitutional rights of free expression. The Bill adopted by the Punjab assembly on the 23rd of July 2020 will be extremely detrimental for knowledge production and critical thinking in Pakistan.
Per the statement, the Bill gives sweeping powers to the director-general of public relations (DGPR), a bureaucratic/un-elected body, and is not directly accountable to the citizenry of Punjab. Under the Bill, the DGPR has been awarded the power to “investigate, assess and (if it deems fit) confiscate,” a book or material it deems to be “in violation” of social morality, Islamic reaching and national security. Such far-reaching and arbitrary censorship powers will devastate the already dwindling publication industry of the country.
In addition to having their current publications screened for “objectionable” content, publishers both local and foreign will have to seek prior permission from the DGPR to be able to import print or publish any book. In addition to the DGPR, the Mutahida Ulema Board (MUB) will also exercise the same powers concerning religious books.
According to publishers, the DGPR personnel does not have the requisite intellectual capacity to assess the materials published in many of these books. The publishers are calling it an attack on democratic values in their statements. The publishers are particularly against the articles 7(1), 7(2), 8(1), 8(2), 8(3), 8(4), and 8(12) of the Bill.
Bilal Zahoor, the founder of Folio books, a progressive publishing house in Lahore, says that “the bill is tantamount to snatching away the already minute space occupied by progressive publications in the market.” He says that his business will suffer immensely because of the Bill, and he is also afraid of his safety as a publisher. “Only 3811 books are published in Pakistan every year. Compare this with about four and a half lacs being published in China. How can such a tiny industry be a danger to any state”, laments Bilal.
Publishers view that the Bill is nothing short of an attempt to censor alternative ideological viewpoints in the social sphere and must be condemned by all democratic forces.
The signatories of the statement include:
Folio Books (Publisher, Lahore)
Vanguard Books (Publisher, Lahore)
Readings (Bookstore, Lahore)
Mr Books (Bookstore, Islamabad)
Books and Beans (Bookstore, Lahore)
Fiction House (Publisher, Lahore)
Mavra Books (Publisher, Lahore)
Jamhoori Publications (Publisher, Lahore)
Sanjh Publications (Publisher, Lahore)
Ilmi Book House (Bookstore, Lahore)
Mashal Books (Publisher, Lahore)
Dogar Publisher (Publisher, Lahore)
Auraq Publications (Publisher, Rawalpindi)
Beacon Books (Publisher, Multan)
Maktaba Daniyal (Publisher, Karachi)
Welcome Book Port (Bookstore, Karachi)
Gosha-e-Adab (Publisher, Quetta)
Roshni Publication (Publisher, Hyderabad)
Shah Latif Kitab Ghr (Publisher, Hyderabad)
Humsari Magazine (Publisher, Hyderabad)
Indus Academy (Publisher, Hyderabad)
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Democratic Commission for Human Development
National Commission for Justice and Peace
Progressive Academics’ Collective, Lahore
Progressive Academics’ Collective, Karachi
ASR Resource Centre
Centre for Social Justice
Aurat March, Lahore
Women Democratic Front
Women Action Forum
Pakistan Kissan Rabta Committee
Daily Jeddojehad Online
Progressive Students’ Collective
Lahore Education and Research Network