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Looking at the state of freedom of expression in Pakistan and what does the state and society stand to gain or lose from a culture of debate, dissent and tolerance

Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman

In a live call that she had made on a tv talk show, the sister of one of the disappeared bloggers insisted that the message that she and her family are getting is that they must leave the country. She is not alone in thinking like this. All thinking people suddenly feel the space to express is shrinking in this country.

While there was censorship, both from without and within, in formal institutions, social media offered a space where they could breathe with some ease. Of these, there is one set of people who have just stopped speaking. They fear not just for their own selves but also those who want to speak and tell them to stay silent.

In today’s Special Report, we want to look at the state of freedom of expression and what does Pakistani state and society stand to gain or lose from a culture of debate, dissent and tolerance of the other point of view.

Of late, it was indeed becoming difficult for the state to engage in narrative-formation as it used to, and the challenge came mostly at the hands of social media. Apart from serious and vociferous criticisms, it was one satirical post or meme, just one witty ironical statement that literally demolished the state narrative as it went viral.

And that is why we see bloggers and poets suddenly gone missing. But these are not the only people missing from our midst. Over the last many years, the list of scholars, academics, intellectuals, journalists, nationalists, who can’t come back to this country, is growing long.

Apart from the social media, we have tried to look at institutions like the parliament and universities that are supposed to engender and encourage critical thinking, the art of questioning and free speech.

Read also: No fear to imagine 

This is what we think the Pakistani state and society needs at the moment and not a static narrative, which after all is impossible to stay static. In the last five years, we saw how the narrative against terrorism changed from “Taliban our brothers” and “This is America’s war” to its exact opposite. That is how evolution and course correction comes.

Those who are silent today must accept that by doing so they are choosing to live in a country where there will be no freedom to imagine. And not only that, they are choosing such a country for their next generations.


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