Several sections of the Pakistan Penal Code provide for punishment of hate speech and incitement to violence. Sections 506, 302, 109, 34 and 153-A are some of the sections in the penal code that may be used in the prevailing environment to prosecute those who are promoting hate violence, or abetting it. In the unique war against terror that the Pakistani government and military has resolved to fight finally, one might have thought the government machinery would have swung into action to strike at the heart of terror in this country: religion based killings. The state did not have to pass new laws immediately, though there is a need to beef up the punishments to make them harsher, commensurate with the severity of the crimes. But no. What did the government do when ‘Dr.’ Amir Liaqat Hussain, together with religious hate mongers (also known as ‘Ulama’ whom Hussain invites regularly to his show)? It got PEMRA to issue a mealy mouthed notice to Geo. And I shall reproduce parts of it below word for word:

“Whereas under section 19 (3) of PEMRA Ordinance of 2002 as amended by PEMRA (amendment) Act, 2007, you are obliged to comply with the terms and conditions prescribed by authority as the same was duly signed by you at the time of award of license.

Whereas, during the above programme the guest (Mufti Syed Mohammed Arif Shah Awaisi) passed some objectionable remarks based on hatred against Ahmadi / Qadiani community. The guest claimed that the existing issues of Pakistan are due to conspiracies of Qadianis. Moreover, Maulana Awaisai further claimed ban on death sentence on pressure by Qadiani community.

Whereas, the airing of the above mentioned remarks is in direct violation of clause (1)(a) and (c) of the Code of Conduct provided in Schedule A of the PEMRA rules 2009 and the licence terms and conditions agreed and signed by you read with Sections 19 (5) and Section 20(c) of the PEMRA ordinance 2002 (as amended by PEMRA amendment Act 2007). The said clauses of the code of conduct are reproduced as follows:

“No programme shall be aired which –

a. Passes derogatory remarks about any religion or sect or community or uses visuals or works contemptuous of religious sects and ethnic groups or which promotes communal or sectarian attitudes or disharmony;

c. Contains an abusive comment that when taken in context, tends to, or is likely to expose an individual to or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race or cast, national, ethnic or linguistic origin ……” etc. etc.

This is the mealy mouthed ‘notice’ an arm of the government issued to Geo News, without indicting the host of the show or, directly, the channel itself. This is the commitment of the government to ‘rooting out terror’ permanently. It neither dared name the molvis preaching hatred against the Ahmadis, citizens of this country, nor named the host of the show, nor lay blame directly on the channel for having done this repeatedly and having got Ahmadi persons killed in this country.

And aside from this media law, which deals with penalties, the government cravenly failed to bring criminal charges against all concerned in this act of terrorism. Indeed, one person has already been killed as a result of this programme. But all the sections of the penal code that the government could have used to book the criminals involved in this incidence were never used.

Whilst I am a proponent of free speech in general, we are all witness to the fact that hate speech is getting people killed in Pakistan with impunity. The speech, therefore, that is killing people, does not belong in the fundamental rights arena – especially speech designed to persecute and have murdered its targets. Where impunity prevails, we are forced to distinguish between rights therefore: some rights are more equal than others. Right to life is surely more fundamental than the right to spew hate and incite violence and murder?

The first thing the government ought to have done was to book the molvis, the host and the audience under the readily available sections of the penal code. Together, all the codes mentioned earlier cover spreading religious strife, abetment, incitement of violence etc. However, the PMLN government is happy to hide behid PEMRA ordinances and military courts. If it really meant to do justice to the Peshawar APC victims, and all other victims of religious extremists, it would have shown its resolve by indicting the beasts preaching killings openly on national television.

I am sorry – but they have shown anything but sincerity with this act.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. She can be contacted at gulnbukhari@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter