HRCP warns Punjab assembly of fuelling bigotry
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is appalled at recent developments that are set to further whittle down space for freedom of intellectual thought, enquiry and expression. The most concerning of these is the Punjab Tahafuzz-e-Bunyaad-e-Islam Act 2020, which restricts the publication of books (among other materials) that are deemed immoral, blasphemous, or anti-state.
Given that Section 505(2) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Act already penalize racial and sectarian hate speech, the intention underlying this new legislation is akin to the antiquated practice of ‘book-burning’. To give the government’s Directorate General Public Relations the power to decide what constitutes ‘objectionable material’ on behalf of all citizens is unacceptable. There is also ample reason to expect that Section 3(f) of the new Act will be used to target religious minorities and sects.
HRCP also notes with concern that the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board has begun what it terms ‘a critical review’ of 10,000 books taught by private schools across the province, and already banned 100 books on ludicrous grounds. Not one of the reasons given by the Board’s managing director at a press conference qualifies as rational grounds to censor content, penalize publishers, and prevent critical thinking.
HRCP is gravely concerned that such measures herald yet tighter restrictions not only on freedom of expression, but also freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The Commission urges the Punjab government to heed its concerns and roll back such measures before they backfire.On behalf of Dr Mehdi HasanChairperson