Fear for freedom of expression advocates as bloggers go missing

Freedom of expression and differences of opinion are basic components of the concept of democracy. A democratic government must protect these components. Unfortunately, various elements in Pakistan have been trying to muffle freedom of expression and difference of opinion for the last 70 years. But, Pakistan’s soil keeps producing intellectuals, poets, artists and writers who continue to stand for the truth.

But today, there is a wave of fear amongst writers, academics and journalists in the aftermath of the disappearance of five bloggers from Lahore, Islamabad and Nankana Sahib who’ve gone missing over the past two weeks. To date nobody knows where they are.

Salman Haider, who went missing from Islamabad, is a teacher, poet and rights activist. Waqas Goraya and Asim Saeed, who went missing from Lahore, are both bloggers. Samar Abbas is President of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan and the fifth person, Ahmad Raza, is a polio victim and runs a small shop of cell phones in Nankana Sahib. They are supporters of secular ideology and criticise conservative and extremist doctrines and policies.

The government’s quarters say that the five are the movers and shakers behind the Facebook page “Bhensa” which uploads blasphemous and derogatory posts about religion, Pakistan and the army. Yet the government recently promulgated the controversial Cyber Crime Law — laws related to treason and blasphemy exist. So if the bloggers have committed a cybercrime, indict and punish them according to the law. If they are involved in any anti-state activity, interrogate, charge and punish them through the course of law. But if not, then there is no legal, constitutional or ethical justification to explain their mysterious disappearances.

If anyone believes that he can manage to spread fear through these kinds of incidents and shut down people who might express unpopular views, they are mistaken. The missing bloggers represent the educated and moderate youth of Pakistan and have played some role in the War on Terror, for let’s remember that this is not simply a war which is fought in the battlefield only. It is a war also being fought through narrative.

The government should ensure recovery of these bloggers. The rulers should keep one thing in mind: they can jail a person but not his thoughts. They can torture a poet but not his poetry. They can inflict wounds to an intellectual but not his narrative.

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