November 21, 2021
The organizers of the Asma Jahangir Conference (AJCONF21) regret the state’s highhandedness after it blocked the three-time elected former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the closing ceremony on Nov 21.
The internet provider was restrained from providing the organizers with the internet services for the conference two hours before the closing when Mr Sharif’s speech was supposed to start.
This included the cutting off of the cellular internet services two hours before the closing session, in the vicinity of the Avari Hotel Lahore.
The organizers of the AJCONF21 including the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), and the AGHS (Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell), have strongly condemned this act and consider it an onslaught on the freedom of expression.
After the video call was cut off, the organizers arranged for a telephonic address, during which Mr Nawaz Sharif condemned the present government for censoring freedom of speech and expression and said that everyone must struggle for democracy together and come to a consensus on political rights to chalk out a way forward to implement it.
“In the past, the judiciary legitimized martial law, and gave a dictator the right to make changes to the constitution in Pakistan,” he said. “ Those who follow the constitution are traitors. There needs to be a consensus on a national narrative.
Following the constitution is the only solution. For this purpose journalists, civil society and rights activists must play their role for the sake of democracy and the rule of law.
They must unify on one platform to form a national jirga, which will give shape to a national movement so that we can move forward as it is already too late,” said Mr Sharif addressing the conference.
Munizae Jahangir, journalist and organizer of the conference, said, “We believe in freedom of expression that is why this non-partisan platform is open to everyone and we condemn the muzzling of the closing session where Mian Nawaz Sharif was going to make an address.”
In the Sessions – A Summary
In the panel discussion on forced conversions, participants said that the Bill on forced conversions should not have been blocked while CII chairman, Qibla Ayaz said that instances of forced conversion were limited to Sindh and Punjab.
In a discussion on inequality on income and wealth, it was mentioned that there was the unequal distribution of wealth which led to a larger gap, and COVID 19 was one of the factors which led to excessive distortion.
In the discussion on anti-rape legislation, it was decided that an implementation strategy was needed for an existing legal framework to be available to survivors of sexual violence. Accountability mechanism for the whole criminal justice system to make access to justice possible for the victims.
In accountability or victimization, panellists said those who called others corrupt were themselves never investigated.
In the discussion on the impact of extremism on minorities, the panellists discussed the plight of all religious and ethnic minorities and the particular laws that lead to discrimination against minorities. The panellists regretted that the constitutional right to equality only remains in name, and even courts are intimidated in some cases.
In ‘Shrinking Civil Space’, which was especially dedicated to Kamran Arif, Advocate and council member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the panellists observed the means employed by South Asian states to thwart civil debate. In the same vein, it was also observed that visas were not granted to international speakers of this conference.
Nobel Laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi from Iran also addressed the audience.
In the session on
So far no one has been prosecuted for enforced disappearances even though several people who have been forcibly disappeared have been released from time to time as a result of political pressure.
In the session on denying refuge and the impact of closing borders to Afghans, panellists said that the right to seek asylum was a life-saving right and that refugees should not be forced to return to a place that was fast descending into a humanitarian crisis.
Mainstreaming gender equality in the judiciary, the panellists observed that Pakistan remains the only country in South Asia where there has never been a woman Justice at the Supreme Court level.
They said that more effort needs to be made by the bar and the judiciary to create a more enabling environment for women in the legal profession, especially in the senior judiciary.
Some speakers suggested the establishment of a standing committee on diversity and inclusion.
In the session on ‘Woes of Smaller Provinces’, panellists said that they were discriminated against by the elite in Punjab who often allied with the military and which resulted in an increase in militancy. They said the guarantees by the constitution given to the smaller provinces were not being implemented. Pushtun Tahaffuz Movement Manzoor Pashteen gave several examples of people who have been subjected to extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention.
In “Macro-Economic Indicators” it was highlighted that national security and economy are intertwined, which has led to huge inequality in the distribution of wealth.
In the session on students rights, a large number of participants came from marginalised areas. They demanded that the ban on student unions should be lifted, the institutionalization of marginalization on account of their ethnicity should cease, missing and abducted students should be immediately freed and members of Parliament Ali Wazir be freed.
Speakers and participants participating in the conference included a large number of lawyers, members of the judiciary, bar leaders, politicians from all mainstream political parties, human rights activists, students and a large number of international experts.