By Aurangzeb Khan
“I listened to you a lot-Maulana! But my fate didn’t change so far.”
Many would have tuned into this song of the Pakistan-based Laal musical band. Laal’s music products address issues such as low wages, military might and religious bigotry which led to a short-term ban on the band’s Facebook page.
It was an attempt to muzzle independent voices on social media, said Taimur Rehman, Laal’s founder. Laal means red and unlike the Laal Mosque in Islamabad, red, stands for progressive thinking in Pakistan too, like the color of progressive leftists world over.
Pakistan recently introduced 3G and 4G technology for mobile phone users to enhance internet speed. Internet speed may increase but the space for free speech and liberal voices is shrinking, despite calls for media freedom by leftist social and political activists. Youtube is still inaccessible in Pakistan. Pakistan has blocked the video sharing since 2012 when the web site featured a video that some deem offensive to Islam.
Laal-a band promoting social and political activism:
Founder of the Laal band Taimur Rehman told VOA Deewa his page was reopened after a two day ban and members of civic society pressed demands the ban be revoked. He said there were some 162 pieces of contents that could not be accessed in Pakistan. Laal sings Urdu poetry of revolutionary poets of Pakistan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. They are considered Pakistan’s progressive thinkers who spent years in prison for challenging the state narrative and the all time powerful Mullah.
Laal started sending out its messages in songs in 2007. The band was offering its talent in protest demos of labor unions in the beginning. Its products are available on the social media outlets. The state and private media in Pakistan, however, can’t air its products as most of them pointing out the weakest links of the powerful military, government and pro-Taliban mindset. Taimur Rehman said that he didn’t do any thing against state but only point out the injustice in society and government is trying to keep silent such voices by putting ban on media and social media.
Other Music Bands Facing Censor:
Beygairat Brigade (Shameless Brigade) is another Pakistani rock band, formed in 2011. The band became popular when they released their first song ‘Aalu Anday’, a song ridiculing Pakistan’s top politicians and generals. The band’s other song ‘Dhinak Dhinak’ released in May 2013 is criticizing the military’s direct and indirect empowerment of Pakistan. The song was blocked on the video sharing site Vimeo and no reasons were cited.
Ali Gul Pir is another famous artist for pointing out social injustices through his songs. He has profiled the ban on youtube in Pakistan in his product KholdoBC. The video criticizes the ban on youtube and grills the mainstream TV anchors, cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan tsunami and loopholes in Pakistan’s judicial system. The youtube was banned in Pakistan in 2012 and despite a resolution passed in the parliament, the government has not yet unblocked the access to the youtube.
Taliban websites in Pakistan:
Lahore-based Pakistan high court ordered the government in September 2011 to block access to all websites spreading religious hatred. The order was executed as some were made inaccessible in the country. However, the websites of Taliban and other extremist groups have not been touched. Taliban use their websites for sharing videos of their attacks on military and anti-state messages on such website. The Afghan Taliban website, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is also accessible in Pakistan. Interestingly, either government has blocked these sites not someone has approached a court for requesting ban on websites of the extremists.
History of state censorship in Pakistan:
The muzzling of Pakistan’s leading private Geo News TV during an elected government is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Media censorship is a recurring gin haunting freedom of speech. Its manifestation was seen in the very early years of Pakistan when the state ordered the then famous Civil & Military Gazette (C&MG) in 1949 after it published a story that Pakistan and India were devising a formula on partition of Kashmir
The then military Dictator Gen Ayub Khan within the first week of his coup detained progressive writers Syed Sibt-e-Hassan, Ahmed Nadim Qasimi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who worked for Progressive Papers Limited (PPL), a leftist publication house. The government established National Press Trust and the PPL papers were handed over to the newly state body.
The elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto didn’t spare the media freedom, However, Bhutto’s successor and military ruler general Zia ul Haq used the heaviest hand against media. The general flogged four journalists within 90 minutes in 1978 four after a phony court delivered the verdict.
The democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were no better than military dictatorships. The two civilian leaders had failed during their rule to protect media against military excesses or threats by religious extremists.