Pakistan’s shrinking liberal space
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
It has served as the voice of the smaller nationalities and religious minorities of Pakistan, and has enjoyed good circulation in Balochistan, Sindh and South Punjab. Could it be that Adil has been implicated in the blasphemy case to bring an end to NayaZamana?
Day by day, liberal space is shrinking in Pakistan. Liberal voices are increasingly being silenced in the name and under the cover of blasphemy. A case in point is the charge of blasphemy against Mohammad ShoaibAdil, the editor-in-chief of the well-known Urdu language liberal magazineNayaZamana (new generation).About seven years ago,Adil published the autobiography of Muhammad Islam Bhatti, a former judge of the Lahore High Court (LHC). The accusers claim thatBhatti, who also happens to be an Ahmedi, made derogatory remarks about the prophet (PBUH) in this autobiography. A case of blasphemy has accordingly been filed against Adil andBhatti as well as Ahmad Tahir, the compiler of the book. In a recent article posted on a national leading newspaper’s blog, Adil is quoted as saying, “The clerics tried to attack me in my office and later at the race course police station.” Since the incident, Adil and his family members have gone into hiding. It is possible that Adil may not be able toreturn to a normal life, let alone his journalistic career.
Also, this newspaper reported on June 19, 2014, that Adil had reportedly been receiving threats from religious militants. It must be noted out that NayaZamana has regularly published accounts of atrocities against Shias, Christians, Ahmedis, Hindus and missing persons from Balochistan. It has served as the voice of the smaller nationalities and religious minorities of Pakistan, and has enjoyed good circulation in Balochistan, Sindh and South Punjab. Could it be that Adil has been implicated in the blasphemy case to bring an end to NayaZamana?If not, it is beyond comprehension why the charge of blasphemy was levelled seven years after the publication of the supposedly offending book. The case also highlights the fact that illiberal hardliners are increasingly using the pretext of blasphemy to suppress liberal voices in the country. The trend has been in evidence, particularly in Punjab, where those standing up for the rights of the Ahmedis or Christians, for instance, are increasingly finding themselves being accused of blasphemy.
The most prominent case is that of SalmaanTaseer, the former governor of Punjab, who, in 2011, was gunned down by his own bodyguard for supporting the rights of a blasphemy accused. Similarly, in May 2014, Rashid Rehman, a 53-year-old special coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was killed for taking up the case of JunaidHafeez, a visiting lecturer to the BahauddinZakariya University in Multan who has been was accused of committing blasphemy on social media.
Since the 1980s, the hardliner illiberal elements have been enjoying misusing the blasphemy laws in the country in which the liberal elements have mostly been coming under the allegation of committing blasphemy in Punjab for standing up for the rights of minority communities.Raza Rumi, a leading liberal journalist also came under a deadly attack in March in which his driver was killed, but thankfully he himself survived. Later on, he went off-screen and fled to the US.
This persecution of liberals is aided and facilitated by the language used by the vernacular press and television talk shows. Many Urdu language newspapers, for instance, employ terms such as “liberal fascists” or “liberal extremists”. Hamid Mir, a leading journalist, for instance wrote in an article published ina popular Urdu language dailyon January 20, 2011, “A liberal fascist is the one who supports the US drone strikes on Pakistani territory, opposes the Islamic constitution of the 1973, supported former General Pervez Musharraf and is now supporting President Zardari, and is in the habit of naming his opponents as friends of the Taliban. The extremists and liberals are in the same group because both do not accept the constitution of Pakistan.” Kamran Shahid, Mohammad Farooq, AttaurRehman and Oriya Maqbool Jan are other such scribes known for opposing progressive and liberal views. The case of Hamid Mir is curious: after years of leading the charge against liberalvoices and perspectives, he himself had to flee to the safety of the “infidel”, “liberal fascist”UK.While the English press, to a certain extent, accommodates liberal and even left voices, much of the Urdu press has been regressive. Since it is the Urdu language press that commands a large readership, it has a great influence on public opinion.As for Mohammad ShoaibAdil, he had been at the forefront in bringing to light the woes of the people, irrespective of their caste, creed and ethnicity, for 14 consecutive years. This is the real reason he has now found himself entangled in a blasphemy case.