Columnist Ayaz Mir wins appeal to contest elections

ISLAMABAD: One of Pakistan’s most prominent public intellectuals and columnists won an appeal on Wednesday allowing him to seek re-election after being barred for the contents of his newspaper articles.

Ayaz Amir was last week prevented from contesting his seat in central Punjab province for the main opposition PML-N party, but appealed to an election tribunal chaired by two high court judges.

An election official initially took offence to elements in his columns thought to talk about drinking alcohol, which is officially banned in Pakistan, and an amendment to the constitution classifying the country as an Islamic state.

Amir told reporters it was the first time in Pakistan’s history that “views in a column” were made the basis of such objections and welcomed the appeal decision as a victory for freedom of expression.

“Imagine if the verdict… had been upheld, then the outside world would have taken a very strange view of Pakistan,” he told a media, adding that the next parliament should “review” articles 62 and 63 of the constitution.

Those articles, among other things, stipulate that candidates for parliament should not violate “Islamic Injunctions” and not act “in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan.”

“The law needs to be reviewed. It should be more clearly explained. It should not be left to the people to determine the criteria of a Muslim,” Amir said.

His lawyer Salman Akram Raja also welcomed the judges’ decision.

“The judiciary has refused to restrict freedom of speech or place any curb on press freedom in Pakistan,” he said, interpreting it as a message to Pakistanis “not to indulge in mud-slinging” or raising flimsy objections to candidates.