By Farooq Sulehria
The US government backed planted an advertisement in Panama papers
on June 4 claiming: Without freedom of expression, there
is no liberty, not in Venezuela or any other part of the world.
The ads were planted on the occasion of Codi Rices visit
to Panama on June 4. On Venezuelan President Hugo Chavezs
decision not to renew the licence of Radio Caracas Television,
Rice described in Panama as his sharpest and most acute
move yet against democracy. She urged the Organisation of American
States (OAS) to send its secretary general to Caracas to look
into the closing of the station and deliver a full report on his
findings. Rice declared: Freedom of speech, freedom of association
and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of the government.
Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly
should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy.
Lets go to Pakistan where a US backed military dictator (for
whom mainstream media always use the designation
president while Hugo is almost always referred to
as controversial president ) is ruthlessly clamping
down on media.
The day Condi was sermonising on media freedom, exactly the same
day General Pervez Musharraf introduced amendments to the Pakistan
Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance, 2002, putting new
restrictions on electronic media. The amendments, made through
an ordinance, empower PEMRA authorities to seize the broadcast
or distribution service equipment of channels, seal their offices,
and suspend their licences if they operate illegally or violate
PEMRA rules. Widely watched private tv channels Geo, ARY One,
and Aaj have been off air since June 4 till the filing of this
report. According to new legislation, the authorities have been
authorised to make new regulations without informing parliament.
Moreover, and most importantly, the ordinance raises possible
fines for violations from Rs 1 million to Rs 10 million. It also
brings Internet Protocol TV, radio and mobile TV under PEMRA regulations.
The contrast between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rices
resounding denunciation of the closure by Venezuela of a single
TV station and the mildly-worded expression of support given to
media freedom by the State Department is evident: Well,
were watching it closely
of course. This is an issue
that the Pakistani people and the Pakistani government need to
resolve within the confines of their law. I understand that there
is a judicial process that is under way, and the media should
be free to cover that process. Its an important element
of making sure that the Pakistani people are informed of what
their government is doing, so it is a situation that were
The censorship is a response to growing democracy movement. Pakistan
is in the grip of a mass movement that was triggered by General
Musharrafs decision to remove chief justice of Pakistan.
It all began on March 9 when Pakistans military dictator
General Pervez Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry on concocted charges. In fact, Iftikhar was summoned
to Army House and was asked to resign. Certain radical decisions
by Iftikhar had indeed annoyed the military junta ruling the country
since 1999. Pakistans pliant judiciary has always served
the all-powerful military rulers since 1958. All the four military
rulers, on assuming power (in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999) were
legitimised by countrys Supreme Court. Corrupt and docile,
Pakistans judiciary had no credibility left. All of a sudden,
Iftikhar Chaudhry, appointed in 2005, surprises the whole country
when he suspends privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills on corruption
charges on the plea of workers union. It did not embarrass the
government merely but jeopardised the whole privatisation process
too. He further surprised when he took suo motto actions on a
government-sponsored real estate project. New Murre
housing project was an environmental catastrophe. Despite protests
by the civil society and environmental groups, the government
refused to budge. Iftikhar Chaudhry took a suo motto action and
ordered to shelve this project. He started earning respect for
his judicial activism. He took suo motto actions on
human rights, women rights cases besides offering relief to trade
unions in some cases. However, he became intolerable for military
rulers when he publicly stated that General Musharraf could not
continue both as president and army chief beyond 2007. Musharraf
had plans to get another five-year mandate through Supreme Court
as his predecessors have done and he himself did on assuming power.
Another sensitive issue was disappeared activists from Balochistan
province. A civil war has caught hold of Balochistan since 1999.
Hundreds of nationalist activists, including journalists and poets,
have disappeared. When Human Rights Commission of Pakistan moved
the Supreme Court against these disappearances, Iftikhar Chaudhry
accepted the plea. The regime has been trying to hush up grave
human rights violations (shootings, torture, and kidnappings)
in Balochistan committed by military to crush the Baloch insurgency.
Enough is enough, thought Musharraf and summoned Iftikhar
to Army House. Iftikhars resignation was demanded. To Musharrafs
shock, Iftikhar refused to resign despite threats. An angry Musharraf
suspended him. Iftikhar Chaudhry had surprised Pakistan and embarrassed
Musharraf yet again.
More surprises (and embarrassments for Musharraf) were to follow.
The lawyers fraternity, demanding Iftikhars reinstatement,
stood up in protest across Pakistan. As they took to streets on
March 16, the regime resorted to violence. Demonstrations were
brutally baton-charged and tear-gassed while a widely-watched
TV channel Geo was attacked by state police for covering live
the police violence. Violence did not work. Political parties
now joined demonstrations across the ideological divide: religious
right to far left. As the demonstrations grew, the movement picked
up a broader agenda. Now demand was not merely the reinstatement
of Iftikhar but the restoration of democracy. The Bar Councils
(advocates associations), that have always been in the forefront
of democratic movement, from across the country started inviting
Iftikhar Chaudhry for an address. Activists in their thousands
welcomed him as he travelled to NWFP capital Peshawar. On May
4, he would travel to Lahore. As ordinary folk turned up in their
hundred thousands to catch a glimpse of Justice Chaudhry
(also name of a Bollywood hit in 1980s, depicting a judge fighting
injustices), analysts called it a revolution-in-the-making.
May 4 And Karachi Massacre:
May 4: Pakistan witnessed a glimpse of revolution if not the
revolution itself. The rallying point was suspended Chief Justice
of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry. As he headed towards Lahore from
capital Islamabad, hundreds of thousands lined the GT Road all
the way to catch a glimpse of Iftikhar Chaudhry. An otherwise
four-hour journey took 24 hours. Such a spontaneous mass mobilisation
was unprecedented since 1968-days. A judge as a resistance symbol
scared US-sponsored military regime. Khakis resorted to age-old
response: thug violence was employed as Iftikhar Chaudhry arrived
Karachi on May 12. Thirty-seven fell to bullets, 300 were shot
injured and scores were brutally beaten up by ethno-fascist MQM-activists
patronised by military regime. MQM is a Karachi-based party and
ally of General Musharraf.
The Karachi massacre did not scare the ordinary Pakistanis who
again turned in tehir hundred thousands as Iftikhar Chaudhry travelled
to Abbotabad on June 2. An otherwise three hour trip took 14 hours.
However, unlike US-sponsored Velvet/Purple/Cider revolutions,
Pakistani revolution-in-the-making is indigenous, spontaneous
and above all directed against a US-sponsored military dictator.
As General Musharraf handed Pakistans military bases over
to US forces in the wake of 9/11, he was showered upon military
and economic aid. A regime that received US aid worth $9.1 million
in three years (1999-2001), was granted $ 4.2 billion in next
three years (an increase by 45,000 %). To assist Bush in his war
on terror, Musharraf deployed 80,000 troops on Afghan border.
But his pro-US policies have been extremely unpopular domestically.
As reward for his support, Washington not merely blessed him with
financial grants but also over looked his election fraud (meantime
shedding tears for Zimbabwe), violations of human rights in Balochistan
and curbs on media. US satraps followed the suit.
Social democratic Persson government of Sweden, for instance,
also invited him to Stockholm and sold him six Saab jets worth
one billion dollar in 2002.
However, it was not merely his pro-imperialist policies but the
grind of daily life that drove ordinary Pakistanis to streets.
In last seven years, privatisation has rendered half a million
jobless while prices have shot 100-200 % up. Lavish US aid has
benefited either military or pro-military politicians. Life for
ordinary folks have only got more miserable. Hence, the chief
justice is mere a pretext, causes for ongoing movement are much
deeper. Though it remains to be seen if Justice Chaudhry brings
Busharraf down yet the die has been cast. Masses have humbled
a mighty general back in 1968. They are likely to do it again.