Prominent journalist Matiullah Jan’s kidnapping by uninformed thugs in broad daylight doesn’t come as a surprise and that is where the crux of the problem lies; Pakistan has been on a fast track on becoming a nation where criticism and free speech is frequently curtailed, with journalists bearing the brunt of it.
In December 2019, he fervently criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to extend Chief of Army Staff Qamar Bajwa’s tenure by 6 months (which would later be increased to 3 years in January) as lacking legal precedent or Constitutional sanction. Only a week ago, he was accused and taken to court for allegedly posting “contemptuous” tweets against the country’s judiciary.
These incidents show Jan’s history of repeatedly provoking and criticising those who “think criticism on them is a bigger crime than the violation of the inviolable dignity of a human being.”
While elections are permitted to occur and people have the freedom to vote, such incidents only go to show that dissent is tolerated only to an extent. Anything further is deemed “anti-state” or an act originating from across the Wagah border. Naming and shaming has become a popular tactic to silence voices that are critical; and for good reason, the public eats up the anti-state narrative, swiftly picking sides and sparking useless debate.
A similar phenomenon was observed at the time of Musharraf when, despite initially enjoying some freedom, the media underwent a massive crackdown after it criticized the President’s regime. Numerous channels, including Geo and ARY were shut down, and it all happened under the excuse of “national security”.
Independent media houses and journalists play an integral role in testing the depth of freedom of speech and strength of an institution by raising questions. There is much debate that until and unless the media is guaranteed freedom, a country cannot be truly democratic – which is why the kidnapping of a senior journalist in the country’s capital is not just a horrific act, but also an apt metaphor for the twisted nature of Pakistan’s democracy.
Ziauddin Yousufzai expressed it eloquently on his Twitter. “Dissidents are the voice of our collective conscience. They strengthen democracy. Don’t silence them. Don’t coerce them. #BringBackMatiullah“.