The authorities in Islamabad need to live up to their claims regarding equal treatment of Pakistani citizens regardless of their geographic location inside the country. The fact of the matter is that their approach towards many Pakistanis, in hitherto marginalised territories like Gilgit-Baltistan, remains no better than that of the colonial masters whose control over our state institutions ended several decades ago. Several political activists, led by the iconic Baba Jan, who had raised voice for those displaced in the Attabad lake fiasco, remain incarcerated on charges of terrorism. That our law enforcement apparatus can charge GB residents with terrorism for exercising civil liberties that the rest of us, in mainland Pakistan, take for granted should be a moment of shame for those representing the Pakistani public in Islamabad. Incidentally, Pakistan’s greatest champion for human rights who left us last week, Asma Jahangir, had condemned the authorities for Baba Jan’s incarceration and sought a fair and speedy trial for GB’s political prisoners.
Instead of trying to address the grievances of the region, the authorities continue with their undemocratic practices. The latest example is the arrest of the president of Gilgit Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court Advocate Ehsan Ali. He was held for re-sharing a photo from recent Iranian protests on social media. The photo showing a woman protester sitting on the platform meant for prayer leaders in a mosque had become a symbol of defiance of ordinary Iranians against the clerical regime. There was hardly anything derogatory about the photo but Ali reportedly still took it off from his social media profile and also apologised for re-sharing it. He was still arrested and remains behind bars. Meanwhile, protests have been held against his arrest in GB as well as in major cities across the country. The protesters, including a large body of students from GB, have sought an end to our double standards vis-a-vis the region. The authorities in Islamabad will do well to listen to these youngsters of GB for this lopsided relationship of Islamabad with the region and its people needs to end.
The case against Advocate Ali needs to be annulled and he must be released immediately. The occasion should also be used to reflect on the undemocratic impulses in the recently passed controversial legislation on electronic crimes. The legislation should be reviewed for any curtailments it places on Pakistani citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties. For there simply cannot be any room for such policing of cyber space in a democratic dispensation. *
Published in Daily Times, February 19th 2018.