The desire to be free is always more powerful than barbarity

Freedom of speech is not about having the liberty to speak but also the right to be heard. 

Freedom of speech is not about having the liberty to speak but also the right to be heard.

As the country recovered from the attack on senior journalist Ayaz Amir, the scenario reached its climax when a known and loved journalist Imran Riaz Khan got arrested near Islamabad jurisdiction. The iconic journalist was traveling to Islamabad for his bail renewal.

In Pakistan, great power accompanies the ability to bend justice in one’s favor. The nation has witnessed that in its true nature. A patriotic journalist committed to serving the country irrespective of the consequences was humiliated and disgraced. He was continuously on the road, sleepless and food-deprived but executed resilience and high morale. After a vigorous struggle for justice, On 9th July 2022, he was released on bail for ten days, but the struggle for freedom of speech is far from over. Later that night, Sami Ibrahim was attacked outside his office. Arshad Sharif and Sabir Shakir, and many others are being harassed daily. The mode may vary, but the goal is to silence the diverse opinions.

Additionally, Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah threatened to block ID cards and passports of PML-N critics. He instructed the PML-N supporters and workers to record and share the video of the PTI supporters to the FIA’s Director of Cyber Crime via WhatsApp or tag the FIA on social media to have the law enforcement authorities take strict action, including blocking their ID cards and passports.

The news related to People power protests to unseat Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was controlled and restrained to avoid generating similar trends in Pakistan. The family who had a political discussion with Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal had to apologize for heckling him at a restaurant based on their political beliefs. It was later revealed that the situation aggravated after the provocation and incitement by the minister.

Freedom of speech is one of the core pillars of democracy. Difference of opinion is critical for preserving its true essence. It develops a society that is equal and fair for everyone. Failing to do that has consequences. Like everything around us, technology innovation and internet penetration have redefined terms such as communication, journalism, and Freedom of speech. When you share a post on your social media, participate in a protest, or write to the authorities regarding issues, it falls under the jurisdiction of free speech.

Understanding that Freedom of speech and expression is essential for change, but sadly, Pakistan is known for its intolerance toward it. It is considered a norm that journalists criticizing the government will face the heat. Raising your voice against suppression is considered taboo or is subjected to selective activism. It happened in the past, and it is happening now. Alarmingly, the Freedom of speech and expression showed a notable decrease after the regime change during the last two months. Indeed, we are living the horror of fascism. If anyone doubts that, they are living in a fool’s paradise. But has it ever rewarded any government or power hubs?

The suppression is staged to deliver a message to all who are identifying mistakes, tabling questions, seeking answers, and suggesting a more flexible and rational approach. Such strategies have never worked and will never work in the future. We are patriotic citizens trying to solve this mounting problem we face as a nation. We were and are with you. Our stance has not changed, but you are now analyzing it with a different perspective and presuming it wrong.

Obstructing the Freedom of speech and rejecting differences of opinion should be condemned, but our polarized journalist community crafts their view based on loyalties, political beliefs, affiliations and preferences. Journalists are the mirror of society. They are the litmus paper that proactively indicates the problems and suggests solutions to their best abilities. In many ways, it is one of the most critical but dangerous professions globally. In Pakistan, many journalists paid the price of their voices and opinion with their lives. Many unsung heroes lay their lives for humanity, country, society, and its well-being.

Opinion diversity and power do not go along very well here. When Imran Khan was in power, he tried to address the issue and opted for a more flexible and accepting approach toward media management. Still, the power hub executed the same rigidity. Imran Khan tried to balance the whole situation, which later became one of the sour points between the two, costing him his regime.

The sitting government is numb to such issues. Having compromised past and corruption baggage hampers them from taking any step towards preventing Freedom of speech. They find it difficult to counter the popular view regarding them. Therefore, controlling the media and snubbing differences of opinion is the only way they can survive. They want to close the argument through abuse of power or violence, with little success.

This does not imply that the PML (N) or PPP upheld a revolutionary stance toward journalism and Freedom of speech in the past. The sitting government and its allies have a history of suppressing voices and depriving opinion. They openly humiliate the profession and manipulate journalists.

Interior Sindh is considered one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Nazim Jokhio’s murder case remains a scare for the Sindh government. Ironically, the accused Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Jam Abdul Karim pooled a decisive vote in the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan after Nazim Jokhio’s wife decided to pardon him as she had limited capacity to go against the system.

The situation is getting grimmer with time, but it won’t end here. Imran Khan’s narrative of forced regime change has penetrated well with the nation. It gained momentum with the hiking inflation and the Shabaz government’s apathetic approach towards the people. With no relief on the table, hushing their voices suffocates the people. Without a doubt, it will have a rebound effect. We are fast reaching rock bottom, and we can only find a way forward by listening to people with different views and logic.

Aggression will further escalate the already politically polarized surroundings. Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most precious and essential human rights. it should be protected and preserved at any cost. The future and the well-being of society depend on the free exchange of ideas. The power hubs should understand that a nation lives through many truths and experiences to gain triumph and wisdom, which leads to justified and correct decisions. At this moment, the country is gliding towards a crisis; the only way out from here is a free and fair election, preservation of opinion difference, and the right to be heard. After all, the desire to be free is always more powerful than barbarity.

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