Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sedition charges: A tool to whip up public opinion – TBP Editorial

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On January 27, twenty-three members of AWP (Awami workers party) and PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement) were arrested in Pakistan’s capital—Islamabad. They were protesting against the arrest of PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen.

Pakistan’s leading newspapers reported that the arrested members were highly educated youth, graduated from the UK and prestigious institutions of Pakistan such as LUMS. Interestingly, the person who they were protesting for and the protesters have all been charged with sedition. In another recent case, 300 students were also charged with sedition last year in December for carrying out marches for student rights in Lahore city of Pakistan.

Section 124A relates to the offense of sedition or exciting “disaffection” against the government. This colonial-era law was introduced by the British to suppress any voice against their rule or showing disaffection against the government which continues to accomplish the same objective for Pakistan’s military establishment as it did a century ago for colonial powers in India.

Does not matter how draconian the law is, and how important it is for the world to remove colonial-era laws from the world, but in Pakistan, it is the favorite tool of the military establishment to whip up public opinion against their disliked group of people, a community or a whole nation like Baloch.

The word sedition has a negative connotation in Pakistan and it is often attached with the flimsy meaning of a traitor where a person collaborates with ‘enemies’ to harm a country, thought the reality is another story and the accused have only shown disaffection over some steps of civilian government or military establishment.

Similar tactics are being used in Balochistan for decades now. Balochistan, a region termed as a ‘Blackhole for media’ by Al Jazeera in 2014, where narratives are only built by the establishment in collaboration with their powerful national media. The same sedition charges and accusations have been the backbone of their narrative, used continuously to whip up the public opinion of Pakistan’s majority population in Punjab against Baloch political and rights activists.

Public in Punjab had always sided with the establishment’s narrative regarding Balochistan, sedition charges in the Capital and in the heart of Punjab have now solved the equation for them, when establishment calls it treason, it does not necessarily mean someone has been involved in activities funded by the so-called enemies, it can also mean that person has shown disaffection against injustices and the atrocities that state has committed on his land and against his people.

Peaceful demonstration for this disaffection is a lawful act, under the laws for the freedom of speech anywhere in the world.

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