The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its recent report on “the State of Human Rights in 2016” holds up a mirror to this society, showing a deeply disturbing image.
The report notes a long list of State failures to protect the lives and rights of its people. As many as 728 people went ‘missing’ – the highest number in six years. And 15 persons, 10 of them Muslims and five non-Muslims, were booked on blasphemy charges, and two each sentenced to death while three human rights activists were killed. While giving out these details, the report points to a frightening reality – as witnessed in the brutal lynching of a Mardan university student Mashal Khan – observing that even though Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, a mere accusation is enough to ignite mob violence and lynching.
Furthermore, it notes that since Pakistan lifted the moratorium on executions in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, 432 convicts have been executed, 87 of them last year. A vast majority of them were common criminals rather than terrorists. This has gone on whilst most other countries have done away with death penalty. It is sad, indeed, that this should be going on in a country like Pakistan where the prosecution system frequently works against the weak and the wheels of justice move too slowly, resulting often times in miscarriage of justice, like in the case of two brothers whom the apex court exonerated last year in a murder case only to discover they had already been hanged.
No less worrisome are the attacks on the media. Six journalists and a blogger lost their lives last year. There has been spike in the level of “intimidations of the media and increases levels of self-censorship by the media,” said the report.
It is worth noting that unlike the past when governments tried to control the press through the infamous device of ‘advice’, the independent print and electronic media now face threats of violence from non-governmental sources. Says the HRCP report, “the year 2016 saw a disturbing rise in assaults on media houses, TV channels and newspaper offices as well as press clubs by militants, religious and political groups.” Meanwhile, the minorities continue to be targeted by religious extremists.
“The year saw several incidents of violence against Christians. The Hindu community complained of land grabbing, attacks, kidnapping, forced conversions, desecration of temples, rape and murder.” The report also shines a light on how the State has ignored the people’s basic rights. 44 percent of children suffer from stunted growth, which means nearly half of the new generation will never achieve its full positional, which would affect their ability to improve own lives as also to make a worthwhile contribution to the national endeavour for progress and prosperity. A further aggravating factor is the neglect of the education sector.
Confirming some other NGO studies, HRCP points out that around 48 percent of the schools lack toilet facilities, boundary walls, electricity and drinking water; and that the federal and provincial governments of Punjab and Balochistan also cut their budgetary allocations for the sector, despite claiming education to be their top priority.
Unfortunately, the political class in this country remains focused on power tussles, neglecting the issues that undermine socio-economic progress. The primary responsibility to fight all the aforementioned challenges, of course, lies with the government. But the opposition parties as well as the media also need to play their respective roles in confronting regressive tendencies and creating respect for the fundamental rights of all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution, including the right to life, right to education, freedom of expression and religion, non-discrimination on the basis of sex, and equality before law.