Islamabad, 10th November (PR) – The Awami Workers Party has denounced the state’s use of violence and anti-terrorist legislation against progressive political workers, trade unionists and intellectuals and demanded the immediate release of party activists like Baba Jan and Ghulam Dastagir who are currently in jail as well as those outside the party fold who have been disappeared over the past few years. At least two hundred political workers, students, intellectuals and ordinary citizens gathered on Monday at the National Press Club to attend a seminar entitled ‘State repression against political activists: The View from the Left’ in which AWP leaders and human rights activists spoke against ever increasing victimization of progressives and the growing power of far-right political forces who employ violence with the blessing of state functionaries.
Speaking on the occasion, AWP president and renowned lawyer Abid Hasan Minto said that since the onset of the so-called ‘war on terror’, states around the world have come up with a host of new legislation under the guise of containing terrorist organizations, but in fact many of these laws have been used to muzzle progressives whose political views are considered a threat to state power. In Pakistan hundreds of nationalists in Balochistan and now in Sindh have been disappeared over the past few years, some of whose mutilated bodies have been later dumped in gruesome fashion. Those who have been fortunate to survive such brutality have been arbitrarily charged under the Anti-Terrorist Act and incarcerated such as Baba Jan in Gilgit-Baltistan, whose crime is only that he mobilized local communities to demand their rights from the state authorities.
Former chairperson HRCP Asma Jehangir said that while many political activists languish in courts, theirs are political cases which can be withdrawn by the government whenever it so pleases. She said that it is not an accident that it is leftists and nationalists that are consistently targeted by state agencies whereas the workers of mainstream parties and particularly religio-political organizations hardly ever face victimization. Giving the example of the Bannu jailbreak, she noted that even when far-right militants are arrested, they find ways of escaping that prove just how committed the state is to dealing with such militancy. Asma Jehangir said that when mainstream parties pass legislation such as the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) which clearly gives a free hand to the security agencies to act with impunity it becomes clear that real power in the country continues to be exercised by the military establishment.
AWP Punjab president Aasim Sajjad said that the Pakistani state has terrorized progressives since its very inception, and has consistently labeled those that express dissenting views as ‘enemies of the state’. He said that this attitude applies not only to activists that explicitly engage in politics but is evident even within universities and in the media that are supposed to be bastions of independent thinking. Aasim Sajjad said that the freedom of expression and assembly is guaranteed to all citizens of Pakistan yet those who attempt to exercise these freedoms peacefully are targeted while those who tote guns under the guise of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ are celebrated in the media and in our textbooks. He said that the left seeks to mobilize exploited classes, women, oppressed nationalities and religious minorities to foment fundamental social change and this is why its activists face state repression.
Dr. Farzana Bari, Nisar Shah, Masud Hasan and Israruddin Israr also spoke on the occasion.