I'm a living example of censorship in Pakistan: Hamid Mir
By Sanjeev Sharma
New Delhi: The anchor and host of the now-off air primetime show "Capital Talk" on Geo TV, Hamid Mir, in an interview with the BBC World Service said he is a living example of censorship in Pakistan.
Mir spoke from Islamabad with Stephen Sackur, the host of the BBC show HardTalk.
"There is democracy in Pakistan but there is no democracy. There is a constitution in Pakistan but there is no constitution. And I am a living example of censorship in Pakistan," Mir said when asked if the Pakistani state is out to silence independent journalism.
On the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mir said" "Imran Khan is not directly responsible for imposing a ban on me. I don't think he wants me to be off air. But like past Prime Ministers, he is not a very powerful Prime Minister, he is helpless and he can't help me."
Dawn reported that Sackur introduced his guest as a high-profile journalist who has faced a string of threats and attacks.
In the 1990s, Mir was kidnapped and interrogated, and later survived two assassination attempts.
Sackur told listeners that since June 2021, Mir's show and his column for Jang Group have been banned by his employers after he made a speech about intimidation and attacks against journalists.
"He (Mir) says shadowy forces operating beyond public view wield enormous power in Pakistan and are seeking to control the media," Sackur said.
When asked by Sackur if intelligence agencies were behind the attack on journalists, including Asad Toor who was attacked in his home in the capital by masked men, Mir said: "These are documented facts and the state agencies and the intelligence agencies were blamed again and again for organising attacks or kidnapping journalists."
Sackur then drew attention to the six sedition cases lodged against Mir, reminding him that if he is convicted he could serve life in prison.
To this, Mir said: "I am ready to face a life in prison because if they will convict me at least the whole world will come to know what is going on in Pakistan. The whole world is already aware of what is going on because I am living example of censorship in Pakistan. Everybody knows what happened to Hamid Mir and why he is banned and everybody knows the names of the people which I have not mentioned."
Mir added that journalists want the rule of law to be established in Pakistan. "If a journalist is asking questions, don't try to silence his voice."
Mir said he was not backing off, and that the article referred to a case filed against him in Gujranwala which alleged that he tried to malign senior generals.
"So I clarified, that I never mentioned any name... I thought that maybe my tone was very harsh and maybe some people were trying to give the impression that I was blaming the whole institution, so I clarified my position that I am not blaming the whole institution. I only talked about some individuals who are trying to silence the voice of the media."
Pakistan TV channel Samaa TV published the transcript of Mir's interview with BBC.
Excerpts from the interview:
Mir: I am banned on my TV channel and I cannot write my regular column in my newspaper. This is not the first time. When Pervez Musharraf was in power, he also banned me on TV but you see, he was a military dictator, he only banned me on TV, he never banned me on newspaper. Now Imran Khan is the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and now unfortunately not only am I banned on TV but I am banned from my newspaper column. So there is democracy in Pakistan but there is no democracy. There is a constitution in Pakistan but there is no constitution. And I am a living example of censorship in Pakistan.
Mir: Yes, and I am ready to face a life in prison because if they will be able to convict me at least the whole world will come to know what is going on in Pakistan. The whole world is already aware of what is going on because I am living example of censorship in Pakistan. Everybody knows what happened to Hamid Mir and why he is banned and everybody knows the names of the people which I have not mentioned, everybody knows who were responsible for imposing a ban on me. The common Pakistanis are very wise, they are very clever. They know each and every thing about what's going on. But you see, there is no rule of law in Pakistan. And we only want justice, we want that the rule of law should be established in Pakistan. And if a journalist is asking questions, don't try to silence his voice.
Mir: No, I am not backing off. You see, there was a legal problem. In one of the petitions against me which was filed in Gujranwala, the petitioner, who is a lawyer, he claimed in his petition that Hamid Mir tried to malign the senior generals of the Pakistan Army, including the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, he mentioned the name of the army chief, but in my speech I never mentioned his name. That was the first thing. So I clarified that I never mentioned any name. And the second thing was that I thought that maybe my tone was very harsh and maybe some people were trying to give the impression that I was blaming the whole institution, so I clarified my position that I am not blaming the whole institution. I only talked about some individuals who are trying to silence the voice of the media.
Mir: I will not make a wrong statement. Yes, certainly I am disappointed but I can understand the circumstances because the editor in chief of my media group, Mir Shakil ur Rehman, he was arrested last year and he remained in the detention of the National Accountability Bureau for more than seven months for a three-decade old case which was not a very big case. And I think that he was arrested, he was detained, just because of the freedom he was trying to give us. He got bail from the Supreme Court but his name was placed on the Exit Control List. He cannot leave Pakistan. He is already (being held) at gunpoint. So my employers, the gun is already at their (temple). So when they were asked to ban Hamid Mir, they banned me. So I can understand their problem.
Mir: Definitely, there is a climate of fear in Pakistan. A lot of young journalists, they are very disappointed and look at the state of media freedom in Pakistan. When Imran Khan came to power in 2018 Pakistan was ranked at 139 on the World Press Freedom Index. Today, in 2021, it is 145. So Pakistan lost six points in the last three years. According to the International Federation of Journalists Pakistan is one of the five most dangerous countries for journalists in the whole world. This is not good for Pakistan, for its reputation and credibility in the international community. And yes, there is a climate of fear in Pakistan because journalists think it is becoming very difficult in this country and this government of Imran Khan Is now planning some more anti-media laws which is not acceptable to us.
Mir: Pakistan is a viewed as a security state and if you go through the autobiography of Imran Khan, which I was reading last night again and Imran Khan gifted me his autobiography with his autograph. Imran Khan himself accepted about the role of the military establishment and the role of the ISI in his autobiography in his very clear words.
But let me tell you, it is Imran Khan, the current Prime Minister, who has written in his autobiography that no politician in Pakistan was able to defeat the military establishment. And he himself accused the ISI that when Musharraf was in power, the ISI tried to twist the arms of some of his colleagues and force them to change their loyalties to the then king's party, the PML-Q. And the irony of the situation today is that PML-Q is the biggest ally of Imran Khan.
Mir: But and on the other side this same government which you think is not responsible for imposing censorship on us, the same government to make a new law by the name of the Pakistan Media Development Authority though which they want to establish media tribunals and they want to convict journalists who will raise harsh questions, who will criticise the government. They will impose fines in the millions. They will send them to prison for two years, three years, and on one side, the government of Khan is doing a good job by making a journalist protection bill but on the other hand, they are also trying to make a Pakistan Media Development Authority bill which is a total negation of the journalist protection bill. He is going to make the legislation for journalist protection, we are supporting him but if he will impose censorship on us through the Pakistan Media Development Authority bill and concentrate all the powers in the Information Ministry, and Fawad Chaudhry will be the person to decide the fate of journalists in Pakistan then we will criticise them.
Mir: Yes, I am very concerned about my personal security for a long time. I asked my family to leave Pakistan and my family left, my daughter and wife have already left. I was also approached by some people who, they suggested I leave Pakistan. But I decided not to leave.
Mir: When I was born in Pakistan a military dictator Ayub Khan was ruling Pakistan, when I went to school a military general, General Yahya Khan, was ruling Pakistan. When I went to college, a military general, Ziaul Haq, was ruling Pakistan. When I started my journalism, General Ziaul Haq was ruling Pakistan. I was first banned by General Pervez Musharraf. So my life, my journalism is very much affected by military dictators in Pakistan. That is why you see, I think that the rule of law is the solution to all of our problems. That's why we want a general democracy in Pakistan because the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a democrat and I am a follower of his. And all those people who are trying to snatch media freedom from us are enemies of Pakistan and are enemies of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at [email protected])