Islamabad - Pakistan People’s Party leader Farhatulah Babar yesterday said that freedom of expression was under attack from invisible manipulators.

Speaking at a consultation organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan here, he said: “Until now freedom of expression has come under attack from visible state and non-state actors but now invisible and secret manipulators are in action.”

I A Rehman, Afrasiab Khattak, Senator Mir Kabir Shahi, Farzana Bari and Zafarullah Khan also spoke during the consultation.

Farhatulah Babar said when the parties make commitments in their manifestos during the election campaigns “they should also evolve an agreed common charter of human rights underlying protection of most basic fundamental rights and freedom of expression should be the foremost in it.”

Freedom of expression, he said, was fundamental as without it the entire regime of human rights be it the right to life, right to fair trial, right to information and right of association was threatened and gravely undermined.

He said these invisible manipulators were stifling freedom of expression by arm-twisting media outlets, blacking out dissenting voices such as that of Pashtun Protection Movement and proscribing media content without recourse to law and bypassing the legal mechanisms provided for the purpose under the law.

Babar added: “This unlawful manipulation of media content is the most serious and potent threat to freedom of expression.”

He said the appearance of media freedom was an optical illusion which was sustained by the politicians fighting among themselves before full view of the public while any meaningful discussion on state’ narratives was not allowed.

Elaborating, he said, that the media refrained from showing footage of Mullah Mansoor Akhtar droned in Balochistan which was available until after former US President Barrack Obama and the Taliban announced it.

“No meaningful discussion takes place in media on the Guantanamo Bay-like prisons in tribal areas officially known as internment centres, on missing persons, negotiations with Khadim Rizvi leading to surrender by the civilian government society, the voice raised by the PTM and the like. Even discussion in the parliament has been stifled,” he said.

The PPP leader said when the reported allotment of 90 acres of land to a former army chief was raised in the parliament a military news release warned against what it described as maligning the army and creating misunderstandings between state institutions. “The matter has never been discussed in talk shows,” he added.

Babar pointed out that there was no discussion on the mainstreaming of militant outfits, the emergence of Milli Muslim League, the declaration by Jamaatud Dawa to enter electoral politics and parading on media of Ehsanullah Esan the self-confessed murderer of Army Public School Peshawar as a sort of white washed hero.

He said the civil society could pay a crucial role in defending human rights only if there was freedom of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly. However, he said, “their space and that of human rights defenders is shrinking.”

He said political parties may identify human rights issues and also make promises to address them but “it will be hard to implement as long as there was a de-facto state overriding the de-jure state.”