November 23rd, 2021
The Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBA), co-host of the third Asma Jahangir Conference 2021, on Tuesday said that there was no one invited or given an opportunity to speak at the conference in violation of any law, and rejected allegations of furthering any agenda other than that of a progressive and democratic Pakistan.
In a statement, the SCBA said the association and the AJ Conference did not endorse any speaker’s point of view in the conference, but provided a platform to diverse voices across Pakistan on critical issues. The SCBA said it believed that adherence to the law is a cornerstone of any democracy. The speakers for the conference were invited to give their views and kickstart important, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, the SCBA said.
PEMRA ban on TV speech not applicable to public gathering
“Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) has banned certain categories of individuals from being broadcasted on television, no such prohibition is placed on these individuals addressing public gatherings in general,” the SCBA said.
The association emphasized that freedom of expression was crucial for democratic progress, and that required giving space to and listening to critical voices and voices that they disagreed with.
“The SCBA and Asma Jahangir Conference attempted to bridge the growing polarization in society by making key stakeholders from the judiciary, lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, government, and opposition speak and listen to each other,” the SCBA statement said.
Thanks CJP, judges for participation
The SCBA said it was indebted in particular to the superior Judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, honourable Chief Justices of Lahore and Islamabad High Courts and other honorable judges who graced the occasion and enriched the conference with their presence and insights.
The Asma Jahangir Conference was a tribute to the legacy, vision and mission of Asma Jahangir, a leader and inspiration to the SCBA. Asma Jahangir stood for freedom of expression and for fundamental rights even for her worse enemies, the SCBA said, adding that her positions were based on her unshakeable convictions and principles and not on personalities. She spoke up for media houses and political parties that viciously attacked her in the past. “SCBA is also committed to her vision and will not be deterred and intimidated by vicious and baseless attacks,” the statement said.
The SCBA said rule of law, due process and constitutionalism present the only path forward for the country and the association wanted to play a constructive role in that journey while maintaining neutrality in partisan politics.
Govt leaders among participants
The Conference was attended by members from across the board, regardless of political affiliations but, as defenders and advocates of human rights. Senator Syed Ali Zafar, Senator Waleed Iqbal and Mr. Lal Chand Malhi were amongst the participants. Ms. Maleeka Bokhari was invited to the panel on Anti-rape Legislation however, she was unable to attend due to personal preoccupation.
Moreover, the guest speakers included members of the minority groups in Pakistan who are scarcely allowed a chance to engage in dialogue – Qamar Suleman from Jamat-e-Ahmaddiya, Peter Jacob from Centre of Social Justice, Kalpana Devi from Sindh High Court and Dr. Ayra Indrias Patras as a spokesperson for the Christian community, the SCBA pointed out. “We thank the participation of Dr. Qibla Ayaz (Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology) who showed his willingness and receptiveness in sitting in the panel on Minorities under Threat,” the SCBA said.
PML-N, PPP given representation
“Furthermore, the conference was attended by Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as representatives of the Pakistan Muslim League – N. Farhatullah Babar, Taj Haider, Kalpana Devi, and Qamar Zaman Kaira were invited and they attended as representatives of the Pakistan People’s Party,” the SCBA said.
The conference was a great success. It was attended by a collective of 3000 plus observers on 20th and 21st November 2021. The impressive turnout was a result of the inclusive and uncensored agenda, the observers included 600 lawyers with approximately 50 office-bearers of the Bar, five former presidents of the Supreme Court Bar Association and high court bar associations and furthermore, participants included sitting members of the Pakistan Bar Council and the provincial bar councils, former secretaries of Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan Bar Council, high court bar associations and the district bars. Over 300 members of civil society were in attendance of the event, 400 students including 250 student volunteers and 100 women lawyers travelled from Quetta, Interior Sindh and Karachi especially to attend the conference, the SCBA said.
The Asma Jahangir Conference has maintained itself as the largest human rights and legal conference in Pakistan and this year was no different. For this reason, it is often referred to as a people’s assembly. According to the statement, the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan co-hosted the 3rd Annual Asma Jahangir Conference along with the Pakistan Bar Council and AGHS Legal Aid Cell on November 20 and 21 in Lahore. The conference provided a platform for a wide cross-section of Pakistani society to engage in a dialogue in the spirit of upholding the rule of law, fundamental rights, and democratic values.