Defence Clubs crack down on freedom of speech and gathering

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The Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has reinforced the ban on lectures, speeches and meetings in all three “Defence Clubs” governed by the DHA, preempting political activities on the clubs’ premises.
Defence Clubs, located in G-Block, R-block and F Sector in the DHA, were established by former dictator Pervez Musharraf who is now under self-exile. To ensure that the ban is implemented in letter and spirit, the DHA has issued a new undertaking to all members of the clubs asking them to maintain the non-partisan environment in the clubs.
The reason behind the move is to prevent proposed get-togethers by the Defence Resident Association (Dar Group) which is planning to invite PML-N MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq and PPP General Secretary Jahangir Bandar separately. The group invited recently an MQM Punjab chapter senior leader to a political function in Charar village adjacent to DHA.
On the other hand, other elite clubs such as Royal Palm, Country Club, Punjab Club, Gymkhana Club and others hold all sorts of functions where political dignitaries make speeches without any restrictions.
Sources said the ban was a violation of DHA bylaws which do not put any restrictions on religious and political gatherings on the premises of Defence Clubs.
The undertaking bars members from making a speech on a political subject and invite a political leader as a speaker or chief guest to a function. “There will be no coverage of any political party in the electronic or print media,” said a copy of the undertaking made available to Pakistan Today. The undertaking also bars birthday parties and Valima, Menhdi, Nikah and wedding functions. Besides, seminars, exhibitions and dance or music programmes have also been banned from Defence Clubs.
Repeated violations of any of the above clauses and keeping in view the severity of the violation permanent membership may be converted into regular, regular membership into temporary and temporary membership may be debarred to use the club up to six months,” the undertaking clarifies.
“In stark defiance of the Constitution of Pakistan that allows political activities without discrimination, the DHA has increased the intensity of the ban instead of relaxing it, a Defence Club member told Pakistan Today on condition of anonymity.
“The DHA administration has inborn disliking for politicians. It came down heavily on PML-N MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq when he lashed out at the army in a political gathering organised by Defence Welfare Society in DHA two years ago and also when he criticized the DHA for declaring ownership of land in its controlled areas through a notification,” the member said.
“The political embargo imposed by the DHA has evoked dark memories of the Musharraf era when democracy was smothered and people’s fundamental rights were usurped,” DHA resident Muhammad Ikram said.
“Democracy promotes and protects political activities and it grows in an environment where everybody has the right to speak and express his or her opinion being a member of any race, cast, religion, ethnic clan and communal group. But the present restriction on politics has negated the very spirit of democracy and it has befallen upon us in a government that never gives in to authoritarian rule,” he added.
Fahim Raza, a DHA resident, said that it was not for the first time that the DHA had muffled freedom, adding there was a complete ban on Muharram processions and gatherings on the DHA premises.
A senior DHA official said that although Defence Clubs never held political functions and permitted only sports and fun activities, it was for the first time that such an undertaking mentioning the functions involving political activities had been issued.
Another member said that a majority of members had endorsed the decision to reinforce the ban on political functions and gatherings, saying there were numerous places in the world which allowed only related activities. “The LCCI allows only business-related functions and so does the Punjab Assembly, he said. “Is it possible for somebody to hold a wedding function in the Punjab Assembly or LCCI?”
DHA spokesman Tajamul Hussain said that everywhere in the world clubs provide members with sports and recreational facilities. “The clubs are not meant for functions. In fact Defence Clubs have never held political functions over the last 26 years,” he added. He said Defence Clubs provided complete peace of mind to members who came here with their families to pass their leisure time. “People like to have privacy and do not want the platform of clubs to be used for political purposes,” Tajamul said. He, however, said there was no ban on political discussions and all members were free to discuss any subject but nobody could call a public meeting, make a speech and invite political figures as guests on functions.
“There is a community center where all functions including weddings are held, Religious programmes such as Mehfil-e-Milad are a regular feature in Ramazan. Educational institutions also hold their functions. However, political gatherings are banned,” Tajamul explained.