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Publish At Your Peril

South Asia remains one of the most repressed regions for journalists and by governments muzzling the freedoms of the press, the region’s democratic gains are in jeopardy.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-MEDIA-MILITARY

South Asia, home to one-fifth of the world’s population and growing fast, has undergone major democratic transitions in the past decade. Today, all the countries in the region are governed by democratic systems. With Nepal’s successful toppling of its monarchy a decade ago and Pakistan’s transition to democracy from military rule, the portents have never been so encouraging. Similarly, Afghanistan, the victim of perennial conflict, is also moving towards democratic governance and reform. These developments are ground-breaking given the turbulent history of the region.

Yet, on one vital test of democracy — freedom of the press — the region is lagging. Between 2013 and 2015, South Asia remained one of the most repressed regions for journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, which publishes a press freedom annual index ranking 180 countries based on the freedom granted to members of the press, countries in South Asia rank discouragingly low.

Most of the countries in South Asia have scores in the bottom two tiers on the press freedom index. In the 2015 index, South Asian countries remained fairly stagnant from previous years: Pakistan ranked at 159th place; Bangladesh was ranked 146th; Sri Lanka was ranked 165th; and the Maldives was ranked at 112th place. […]

One year after: On the endangered freedoms in Pakistan

Car fired uponIt has been a year as I wrote here since I was almost assassinated. I have already posted the tribute to Mustafa who died in the March 2014 attack. Here are a  few other stories that were published recently.

It has been […]

April 10th, 2015|Journalism, media|0 Comments

Raza Rumi: They Tried to Silence Me Once and For All

I spoke with Clarion about fighting for fredom of speech when the price for failure is death.

Raza Rumi9

Raza Ahmad Rumi is a Pakistani policy analyst, journalist and an author. He has been a leading voice in Pakistan’s public arena against extremism and human rights violations. 

In March 2014, he survived an assassination attempt in which his driver lost his life. Within weeks, he left Pakistan and has been affiliated with the New America Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace. 

He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project’s Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about Pakistan, free speech and blasphemy legislation.

 

Clarion Project: You are a writer. What challenges have you personally faced due to what you write about extremism in Pakistan?

Raza Rumi: When you write about growing radicalization and extremism and call for introspection, critique the role of clergy, then your writings are edited so as not to ruffle too many feathers. At times, one is labelled as anti-Muslim and anti-Islam for demanding a rational discourse on religion and its public manifestations.

Earlier, this opprobrium was restricted to verbal abuse and attacks, but now it has taken a dangerous turn with the increase of blasphemy law victims and in my case an assassination attempt.

Though I must clarify that writings in English draw less attention than those in the vernacular languages, I got into serious trouble due to my views aired on the mainstream Urdu broadcast media. My public engagement with media, academia/think tanks and civil society was too much for the extremists (backed by elements within the state) to handle. So they tried to silence me once for all.

Clariton1
An angry mob riots in Pakistan.

  […]

Watching the watchdog

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? […]

Pakistani journalist shares why his work led to an attempt on his life

I was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera TV – here is a video clip:

Raza Rumi describes the state of the media in Pakistan, where 34 journalists were reportedly killed since 2008

http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201405062237-0023704
Journalist Raza Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban network in Pakistan on March 28, 2014.
He joins Aljazeera host Antonio Mora […]

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed on my book

A lovely review of my book in the Daily Times by Ishtiaq Ahmed

When Indians and Pakistanis visit each other, questions of identity, patriotism, and self-esteem almost invariably crop up in even the most enlightened circles. That for more than a thousand years Indian-Muslims were a hyphenated community among many others such as caste Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Dalits, and all of them together were described generically even as Hindus by foreigners, is often forgotten.

Delhi by Heart is a jolly good, multifaceted account penned by Raza Rumi of Lahore of his sojourns in the Indian capital, Delhi, over many years. He puts his experiences in perspective by drawing attention to indoctrination at school and in higher educational institutions in Pakistan, which aims at inculcating the belief that India and Indians are mortal enemies. He makes this admission without mincing words: “I grew up and lived in a milieu that conditioned me to resent India, especially its role in dismembering the Pakistani state in 1971. I also lived in the semi-schizophrenic state of being part of the ‘enemy’ landscape.”

However, cultural references, historical threads and many other bonds from a shared heritage were far too strong. As happens ever so often in this globalised word, people are on the move more and more. Rumi met Indians when he was studying abroad and later interacted with them at the Asian Development Bank and then as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Such experiences helped him discard the crass prejudices he had imbibed during socialisation at school and college.

[…]

September 10th, 2013|Arts & Culture, books, India|3 Comments

Farewell Haqqani Saheb – forgive your peers and colleagues

A personal favourite, Irshad Ahmad Haqqani is dead. This is a huge loss to Urdu journalism as he was the last of sane voices in the vernacular industry. I often disagreed with his centre-right views but his tone was measured and he remained a staunch supporter of democracy. May […]

January 29th, 2010|Arts & Culture, Journalism, media, Pakistan|1 Comment