Freedom of expression being curtailed by ‘undeclared censorship’: Bilawal


–Says journalists under constant threat by ‘state and non-state actors’

–PPP chief says some use guns, other use religious texts to stifle free speech

–Tells govt to stop ‘economic strangulation’ as a means to curb free press

KARACHI: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday said there exists ‘undeclared censorship’ in Pakistan and journalists are under immense pressure from “state and non-state” actors, thus curtailing the freedom of expression in the country.

Addressing a ceremony at the Karachi Press Club to observe World Press Freedom Day, the PPP chairman said that the space for democratic rights has dangerously shrunk and this year the media and the right to freedom of expression are under siege in Pakistan.

He said that both “state and non-state actors” are constantly attacking journalists in the country and 26 journalists have been killed in the past five years. “Out of these, only 16 cases proceeded to court and the trials were only completed in six cases and conviction was awarded in only one case only to be overturned later,” he said.

Bilawal said that freedom of expression is the “mother of all human rights” and the press is the defender of human rights. “Freedom of expression and the freedom of association are the most important rights after the right to life and without them, no other rights can be articulated,” he said, adding that under the existing circumstances, it is the journalists who are suffering the most.

“Lately, the freedom of expression has reduced immensely in the country because some people use guns while others use religious texts to stifle free speech,” he said, adding that rights are shrinking in Pakistan and journalists are being killed.

“Previously, freedom of expression was curtailed by banning media organisations or by manipulating advertisements as mentioned in Supreme Court’s (SC) Faizabad verdict,” he said, adding that now there is open talk about bringing all media under one uniform body to exert greater control over it. “The government has also announced a crackdown on social media and all these decisions imply its willingness to curb free speech and dissent in the country,” Bilawal said.

He called for legislation to provide greater safety and security to journalists and condemned the use of “economic strangulation” to curb freedom of speech in the country.