Washington DC, 24th June. The South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistani intellectuals and activists, is alarmed by the growing trend of targeting academics and scholars in Pakistan. While the tendency to control and censor the academic environment and scholarship is not new, but this wave of intensified attacks is worrying for all pro-democracy forces of the country.
The recent cases of abrupt dissolution of employment contracts of college and university professors, e.g., world renowned physicist and pro-peace activist, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy; Ammar Ali Jan known for his progressive views and open support for human rights movements for the Pashtun, the Baloch and other marginalized communities; Prof. Zaigham Abbas, the prominent political scientist and critic of state policies; and Mohammed Hanif, playwright, novelist and opinion writer for world renowned publications. All of them have been shown the door by hurriedly terminating their contracts or refusing to extend them.
SAATH is also concerned about the recent wave of shunning the critical academic voices on the pretext of blasphemy. Most recently, Professor Sajid Soomro of Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur (Sindh) was arrested on unsubstantiated blasphemy allegations. Subsequently, Dr. Arfana Mallah, prominent feminist, human rights defender and professor of Chemistry at the University of Sindh Jamshoro was targeted with smear campaign and allegations of blasphemy. Earlier, Junaid Hafeez, a Fulbright scholar and lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University, was sentenced to death after allegations of blasphemy in classroom. These allegations when drawn against academics and teachers create an irreversible sense of insecurity and fear among teachers and scholars losing their ability to research and teach with independent mind.
SAATH members also express their strong concern over harassment of academics and scholars by the state misusing the law. Prof. Ismail Khan among various other young teachers especially from the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement as well as those having Baloch and Sindhi nationalist leanings have been targets of this kind of harassment since long. Not only the academics, scholars, and authors have been targets of smear campaigns, their work has also borne the brunt of state’s wrath over the dissenting views these individuals and their writings express. Over last couple of years, the practice of banning the books or preventing their launch events has also seen new highs.
SAATH members note that all these transgressions by the state or non-state actors in Pakistan have been going on with impunity for a very long time. They demand that the relevant institutions especially the parliament and judiciary must ensure that these acts of oppressing dissent and stifling of academic expression does not go scot free. SAATH will keep monitoring and documenting the situation, followed by advocacy drives with international forums for human rights because the members believe that academic freedom is a human right.