If the kidnapping of civil rights activists was an act hearkening to the darker ages of Pakistan’s past, the abduction, torture and humiliation meted out to a Punjab University student by members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) – the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) – for voicing his support for their safe recovery must definitely bring back memories of a more repressed time.

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Perhaps sensing that the state itself was cracking down on the opinions of the left like the old days, the IJT, student wing of the JI, and a notoriously thuggish band, felt comfortable in flexing its muscles too. Perhaps it is beyond individuals to protect free speech and open debate against a predatory state, but we are definitely able to keep our educational institutes – designed to inculcate these very traits – free from repression.

According to the Chairman Hall Council Dr Abid Hussain, the suspects did not take the victim to any room but beat him up in the open, with a large crowd of witnesses present. This is an open and shut case. The students who carried out this assault must be expelled immediately and the criminal cases against them pursued till the end, while the IJT’s student leadership in the university must be severely punished to deter them from future misadventures.

However, there are already signs that the IJT could get off scot-free. It has been reported that the Vice Chancellor of the university has directed authorities to start “reconciliation” with the IJT and its parent body the JI, which might see the criminal charges dropped; seemingly seeking to reverse the policy that has keep student bodies such as the IJT in check.

This must not be allowed to happen. It is the responsibility of the university to protect its students and punish criminal offenders, especially if their offence is against the spirit of education itself.