Editor’s Note: A wide array of civil society activists from different fields and different persuasion have released the following statement on the recent harassment of former Information Secretary of the PPP and former Federal Minister of Information, Sherry Rahman. ATP joins in the sentiment and spirit of the statement.
We believe that freedom of speech which includes holding diverse opinion, is the fundamental right of every citizen and indeed forms the basis of every civilized and democratic society. In Pakistan we have fought long and hard to secure this right from dictators and democrats alike. We feel that we need to continue to be vigilant about growing attempts to muzzle free speech in the public domain. Most importantly, we must not allow our own inaction as citizens to lend sanction to the naked state-backed intimidation that we witnessed at the hands of a government that was once the proud standard-bearer of fundamental rights in Pakistan.
It is therefore our duty as watchful citizens to not allow political parties to unleash such blatant acts of harrasment and intimidation in a series of crude attempts to gag its own senior leadership through violent means.
Sherry Rehman’s case is particularly disturbing. As former Information Secretary of the PPP, and former Federal Minister for Information, her services to democracy and press freedoms bear no repeating.
On the heels of a show cause notice served on her by her party for speaking on a television channel that was ostensibly under a ban by the PPP, her house in Karachi was held under siege for hours. On October 22, 2010, about 300-350 armed goons, front-lined by women, protested outside her gates while local police stood and watched them block roads as well as lay siege to her house.
While some sections of the party leadership maintain no knowledge of these activists, their reluctance to take punitive action against these “fringe elements” deployed with party symbols and flags continues.
In a subsequent development that was even more shocking, a Sindh minister went on the television to say without hesitation that Sherry Rehman should have expected such inaction for speaking to a channel that was proscribed by the party.
She was blatant in owning the fascist behavior of these new party shock troops in what she described as “emotional outbursts” by party workers the government or party could control. The silence and inaction of other leaders after several days of the incident now also points to a trail of complicity in dangerous violence.
It should be noted by all that we strongly condemn this attack. The attack on a public representative’s house, where her undefended mother and daughter were held hostage for hours, was completely unwarranted and constitutes a serious violation of their fundamental rights.
It was reliably reported that Rehman’s effigy was burnt in front of her besieged house, while traffic and roads leading to her house were blocked for several hours by shock troops from the PPP stronghold, Lyari. Her vilification was allowed to go unchecked even before this incident. Graffitti threatening her with physical decapitation if she “violated party discipline” was repeatedly sprayed outside her house. We not only condemn such resort to terror, but also demand that the President and the Prime Minister order an inquiry into the siege of Ms. Rehman’s house and take swift and appropriate action against those responsible for resorting to terror in the name of a protest.
We demand that the Report of an Inquiry be made public within 7 working days from today.
SIGNATORIES. Dr. Hassan Abbas, Tahira Abdullah, Dr. Meekal Ahmad, Amb. Shamshad Ahmad, Tasneem Ahmar, Ambreen Ajaib, Absaar Alam, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Miariann Babar, Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebraheem, Imtiaz Gul, Anis Haroon, Hameed Haroon, Ali Dayan Hasan, Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Akmal Hussain, Irfan Hussain, Quatrina Hussain, Amb. Touqir Hussain, Prof. Ayesha Jalal, Nusrat Javed, Asma Jehangir, Amb. Shafqat Kakakhel, Ali Karamat, Haris Khalique, Aqsa Khan, Amb. Humayun Khan, Amb. Mazhar Khan, Samina Khan, Amb. Riaz Khokhar, Mohammad Malick, Amir Mateen, Fauzia Minallah, Hamid Mir, Khawar Mumtaz, Zubeida Mustapha, Kishwar Naheed, Dr. Adil Najam, Fawzia Naqwi, Shehzad Nawaz, Sameena Nazir, William Parvez, Omar Qureshi, Salman Akram Raja, Abbas Rasheed, Rashed Rehman, Dr. Tariq Rehman, Justice Majida Rizvi, Raza Rumi, Najma Sadeque, Babar Sattar, Dr. Dushka Sayed, Fareeda Shaeed, Zeenia Shaukat, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqua, Najam Sethi, Kamran Shafi, Ahmar Bilal Sufi, Mohammad Tahseen, Nasim Zehra, Mohammad Ziauddin.