Free Speech, Pakistan

Pakistan’s Deadly War on Free Speech

The execution of Mashal Khan is perhaps one of the most disturbing videos to have ever been posted on the internet, but sadly little more than another skirmish in Pakistan’s war on freedom of expression and human rights. In this video, you can observe Khan’s defiled naked corpse, after he was shot in the head and chest. He was dragged into a public square, where it is then subsequently beaten with shoes, bats and planks as a cheering mob relish every hit.

Mashal Khan was murdered by a mob at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Pakistan because of his ideas regarding Islam and politics. These individuals are meant to be some of the most intelligent and enlightened individuals in Pakistani society who should have been able to tolerate differing ideas. Instead, a large mob of staff and students proceeded to murder an individual who dared contravene their beliefs on Islam. These individuals accused Khan and other students of blasphemy. It was reason enough to justify his slaughter.

Even more disturbingly, when Khan and several other individuals were accused of blasphemy, the teachers at the University had to lock Abdullah, a co-accused of Mashal Khan, in the University Chairman’s office toilet to protect them from the mob attempting to lynch him. Abdullah was saved from being “tortured” by members of staff at the University and students by local police forces and was later hospitalised.

Even more worrying are allegations from a suspected murder of Khan that the Security Chief at the University, Bilal Baksh, not only said that those who protected Mashal would be handled with “an iron hand,” but also that he would “kill Mashal.” This was said despite Senior Police officials stating there was no evidence of his blasphemy. It seems, in Pakistan, an individual can be guilty of blasphemy because they are unpopular. It seems the hunt for blasphemers is similar to a witch hunt.

Khan was murdered without evidence by the mob led by the very Security Chief who was meant to protect him. It appears the verdict of the hearing on Khan’s speech was unimportant. His killers need not even wait on a verdict, but would simply kill him instead. Individuals who dare think differently are murdered in Pakistan not just for holding different beliefs, but in places where free-thought is meant to be sacred.

And what is the official response of the University? The Abdul Wali Khan University is now investigating Khan, Abdullah, and another for blasphemy. Is this not the epitome of victim blaming? It appears that no investigation by the University has been launched into why a staff member thought it appropriate to murder and desecrate a corpse without evidence, no investigation has been launched into why the chief of security vowed to abuse those protecting Khan, despite fulfilling their legal duties? The University failed to even condemn the murder of Khan, in its official statement.

It seems in Pakistan, the crime of speaking against a religious idea is treated more seriously than the murder of free thinkers.

But the murder of Khan is not the end of the story when it comes to regressive forces using blasphemy to silence the ideas of others. Pakistan has launched dozens of investigations into NGOs, alleging them to promote “blasphemy and pornography.” Chairman of the National Assembly Standing committee, Muhammad Safdar, appealed to conspiracies about NGOs working on “a hidden agenda and against the ideology and constitution of the country.”

Human Rights Watch in a 2016 report on Pakistan detailed that 19 people awaited execution due to their crime of blasphemy. When a state murders individuals for daring to hold different religious opinions, is it any surprise that vigilante mobs determined to silence their opposition view it acceptable to murder on behalf of the state?

Of course, Pakistan’s Government is continuing to state that it wishes to punish those social media companies that allow blasphemy on their platforms in Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, notes that those social media platforms that don’t removed content offensive to the Prophet Muhammad or Islam will be “strictly punished.”

Such restrictions and intimidation seem purely designed to silence opposition. Would you trust your Government to police what is blasphemous? Even more concerning, would you trust Pakistan, ranked as the 116th most transparent government in the world by anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, to police blasphemy?

It is shameful that Facebook sent a delegation to Pakistan with the supposed intent of trying to co-operate with the Pakistani Government in tackling Blasphemy. It seems it too wishes to collude with the Government and silence individuals who are deemed blasphemous. It is even more shameful that Facebook have colluded with Pakistani authorities in the blocking of 152 Facebook pages deemed to be blasphemous. It has even blocked 62 pages, 45 since the last week of March. Facebook has blocked 85% of pages that Pakistan’s authorities have identified as blasphemous.

Even more outrageous, is that Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court Judge ruled that foreign ambassadors should have been summoned to a trial to discuss blasphemous material being uploaded in their country. Pakistan, it seems, wants to take their crusade against Blasphemy global.

Orwell may have never imagined that his thought police would first become realised in Islamic nations, but it seems that the thought police are alive and well in Pakistan, except they are also the thought-judge and thought-executioner.

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One comment

  1. excellent article! at first i was going to note that i differ somewhat in that “thought police” were a leftist invention in the 20th century, but of course, that is just silly; islam has been around for almost 1200 years longer than leftism, and pirate cult that it is, has been enforcing “correct” thought for centuries.

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