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Pakistan - Jinnah Institute roundtable,"Liberal and progressive voices are being silenced"

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June 1, 2015

ISLAMABAD - The Jinnah Institute convened on Thursday a roundtable on ‘Religious Minorities and Freedom of Expression in Pakistan’ to discuss increasing intolerance and its impact on country’s beleaguered religious minorities.

The conversation began with participants commenting on reduced space for constructive critique and public dialogue, pointing to the recent murder of Sabeen Mahmud as evidence of increasing intolerance within society.

The participants remarked that liberal and progressive voices are being silenced for raising questions and that the onslaught of violence is no longer limited to minorities. Observing that May 28th marks the fifth year of the terrorist attacks on Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore, the participants expressed concern over the lack of minority issues’ coverage in the mainstream media, citing the Youhannabad church attack as an example of incomplete reportage.

One participant observed that during the attack, members of the Christian community could not adequately express their views. Religious minority representatives also spoke about the need for airtime in the mainstream electronic media to generate understanding of their issues. Others mentioned the need for self-censorship and restraint for electronic media over its air transmissions.

Picking up on the theme of self-censorship, there was a discussion on the level of security afforded to English language dailies. There was agreement that the illusion of the Internet being a safe space for debate and dialogue needs to be dispelled, as hate speech often serves as a catalyst and instigator for the extremist mindset. In this regard, the effects of the controversial cyber crime bill were also discussed, with participants expressing the view that citizens need to be more vocal about policy inputs.

Another issue raised during the lively debate was that parliamentarians representing minorities in mainstream political parties face difficulties in raising issues and forming policies impacting their communities. It was proposed that unless political leadership was more forthcoming in progressive legislation for minorities, it would remain difficult for minority leaders to respond to their communities’ concerns.

It was also proposed that the political parties pay more attention to curricula reform as textbooks determine public attitudes towards religious minorities. The participants condemned the recent departure of the renowned scholar of curricula reform, Dr Bernadette L Dean, from Pakistan after receiving death threats. The roundtable ended on the pressing need to voice and register dissent against the treatment of Pakistan’s marginalised communities, despite the shrinking space for freedom of expression.

Participants of the roundtable included Dr Ramesh Kumar Kankwani, Wajahat Masood, Romana Bashir, Gul Bokhari, Hassan Belal Zaidi, Sultan Hali, Sajjad Changezi, Tahir Imran Mian, Kashif Aslam and other members of the civil society.

Source: dailytimes.com, May 29, 2015




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