Our Voices

Concern over deteriorating human rights situation and closing civic space in Pakistan

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights condemns the growing repression of dissent and closing civic space in Pakistan, which in turn are contributing to a deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The arrest of key opposition members, the blanket ban on their speeches and the suspension of news channels is a direct attack on democracy and a warning sign of authoritarianism.

Earlier in March, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banned the broadcasting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches and suspended the transmission of private news network ARY TV. While the use of media bans on dissenting political voices in Pakistan is not new, the repeated abuse of the media regulatory powers by Pakistani authorities has a great impact on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are cornerstones of any true Democratic society.

The crackdown on dissent and criticism is further implemented through the continuing use of colonial-era laws, including the Sedition law, against journalists and political opponents. In 2022, Khan’s Chief of staff and senior official of opposition political party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI), Shahbaz Gill, was arrested and charged with sedition and incitement to mutiny. He denounced having being tortured while under police custody. Similarly, journalists Arshad Sharif, Sabir Shakir, Imran Riaz Khan and others, were charged with abetment of mutiny and “causing public mischief” for criticizing state institutions and the army. Today, Pakistan ranks 157 out of 180 on the freedom of the press index by Reporters Without Borders.

We urge the government of Pakistan to cease its undue restrictions on fundamental rights that have the practical impact of closing civic space in contradiction with the obligations arising from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We also call on the US government as well as other key allies of Pakistan to not turn a blind eye to the serious deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in the country and instead, to make full respect of democratic principles, including the right to dissent, a necessary condition for international cooperation.