In another move to muzzle freedom of speech, the district magistrate in South Waziristan has banned all ‘anti-state’ gatherings, rallies and processions to be held in the tribal region for a month. Decrying Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) as grounds for the ban, the gag order is a tyrannical response to PTM demonstrations in North Waziristan where members were, incidentally, reprimanded under the trope of ‘instigating the people through provocative speeches against the state and state institutions’.

Where Section 144 prohibits public gatherings of five or more people, processions, rallies in any public place and is supposedly used to curb large gatherings during Muharram or New Years, the injunction has historically been used to bring down the hammer on protests or dissidence against the status quo.

The state cannot use the injunction to maintain a hegemony over free speech and criticism. The move to swiftly label any form of protest, censure or disagreement with the state’s actions as being ‘anti-state’ is a calculated action that seeks to demonize the freedom of opinion. We have already seen elements of tyranny being roused in the wake of the ISPRs recent comments on highlighting journalists who voice their criticism of the power-that-be.

The use of such authoritative mandates by the state to curtail any difference of opinion is tantamount to authoritarianism. Using injunctions that are essentially designed to ensure the safety of the public to stifle the right to opinion of the people is a totalitarian directive, against the very principles of democracy and should be condemned as such. Such an edict casts dark shadows over the looming elections, that need to be an inculcation of egalitarianism and freedom of judgment, rather than mandatory conformism. Now is the time to encourage such voices to allow for a fair and free election where the public is aware of the ground realities and implications of what their vote means.