Stifling legitimate voices through ordinance

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Mannan Samad
In a shocking move, recently Governor of Balochistan, Syed Zahoor Agha, issued a Criminal Law Balochistan Amendment Ordinance which imposes a ban on conducting meetings, rallies and sit-ins on national highways in Balochistan province in the name of ‘ensuring the free movement of people without any hurdles and hindrance’. According to various provisions of the ordinance, violators can be punished with imprisonment of three to six months and a fine of Rs. 10,000 and the police can also arrest violators without a warrant.General public, civil society, lawyers and politicians are seething with anger and rage over the controversial ordinance terming it ‘unlawful’ and ‘unconstitutional’. Article 16 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan grants every citizen the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The right of peaceful assembly includes the right to hold meetings, sit-ins, strikes, rallies, events or protests. But the provincial government is bluntly infringing the article 16 of the constitution by preventing its citizens from holding rallies and staging sit-ins which is an affront to the constitution of the country.From the ongoing sit-in in the port city of Gwadar under the umbrella of ‘Give Gwadar the Right, Give Balochistan the Right’ movement to the prolonged boycott of classes and semester examinations in University of Balochistan by Baloch Student Organizations for the safe recovery of two students, Fasieh Baloch and Sohail Baloch who went missing from the hostel of Balochistan varsity, Balochistan is currently reeling from the wave multiple protests and sit-ins being carried out in various parts of the province while this ordinance has come forth in the wake of suppressing these demonstrations. The recently issued ordinance is frankly aimed at targeting the peaceful movement of Gwadar being led peacefully under the tutelage of Maulana Hidayat-Ur-Rehman and the ordinance is a botched attempt to intimidate the students organizations from speaking out against the insecurities and injustices inflicted upon the students. It is also a brazen tactic to stamp out the sit-in of the Young Doctors Association in the red zone of Quetta and the arrest of some doctors was also carried out under the same law.This portrays the sheer failure of state if citizens are compelled to take to the streets and chant slogans against the violation of their rights. Instead of listening to their grievances and upholding their basic rights, state has decided to exercise clamp down on peaceful rallies and protests in order to shrunk the space for freedom of expression and crush differing views in the larger vested interests. This fascist attitude shows the gross incompetency of Balochistan government to appease the protesters and fulfil their demands while provincial government is attempting to hide its sheer ineptitude under the guise of such contentious ordinances. It has been said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism but the authoritarian government is relying upon brute force to muzzle dissenting voices which is outrightly antithetical to the essence of democracy.Stifling legitimate voices through promulgation of ordinances will further intensify the miseries of general folk and trigger an unremitting sense of outrage and discontent among the populace. It would not be an exaggeration to state that peaceful protests may turn into violent ones if fascist provincial regime chooses to handle peaceful protesters with iron fist. As always, the ultimate onus lies on government if an inevitable event unleashes a gruesome trail of terror, violence and blood. The writer is a contributing columnist based in Quetta.