Abusing the right of freedom of expression? -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Abusing the right of freedom of expression?

By Gibran Ashraf

The right of holding a public congregation or public assembly are considered to be one of the basic human rights in a democracy. However, in light of recent incidents in Karachi when rallies have been a prime target for acts of terrorism, the concession of this right needs a review.

Last week, at a public meeting between local religious leaders and the Town Nazim of Liaquatabad, the religious groups were adamant to take out their rallies en masse. Demanding for security of all types for their programmes, they vehemently stated that they were prepared to die in the line of their religious idioms. All of them were prepared to send themselves, along with their followers, women, children, and the old to their deaths.

While death seemingly not a factor for those who stage the rallies, the duty of the state is compromised by this irresponsible public act. Further yet, the consequences of staging a rally in the current socio-politico-economic environment of the country are multi faceted.

It is necessary for the state to ensure basic rights of the people. However, none of the governments in the past have ever channelised their resources to ensure that the basic human rights of the public are met. Thus putting a stop to these rallies would not morally raise questions in the assembly. However, it is the political standing that stands to bear damage from any such move. Detractors of the government would slam such a move. Also, this may also see a revival in the increasingly sect-tolerant environment.

There are strong reasons for prohibiting these rallies and these reasons extend beyond political or security risks because in recent times, public rallies have only served to paralyse the city. While the aim of these rallies is to garner attention and support to the promoted cause, it has an adverse affect on variety of city functions. Commerce, traffic, emergency services, and the common man, all suffer in wake of these rallies.

The after-effects of the acts of terrorism that struck the city on Moharram 10 and Chehlum procession were such that they completely paralysed the city as well as spread terror among citizens for two full days after the incident.

In times of a global recession, shutting commerce for a few days or even hours in the country’s financial hub is not a good idea at all. People are already burdened due to the highest inflation that the country has ever seen, petroleum products priced near to their record high, getting stuck in a traffic jam for three hours due to a rally is toxic for an ailing economy like PakistanÂ’s.

The rallies also tend to stretch thin the already insufficient security forces in the city. With a good percentage of the police force utilised for the security of high value targets including ministers, among other installations, it is a challenge to muster enough forces which would be able to keep an airtight vigil on any rally, especially the ones spurred by religious drum beating.

Protest demonstrations remain the preliminary tool for marginalised people to draw attention to their issues. However, in recent times these rallies have only drawn the ire of the very public from whom sympathy is demanded.

gibran.ashraf@thenews.com.pk
Source: The News
Date:2/16/2010