ISLAMABAD    -   Citizens have the right to know about policies and decisions made by the government that affect their lives, speakers said this in a seminar held here.

Speaking at the seminar ‘Reclaiming Civic Spaces in Pakistan’ organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Thursday, Honorary Spokesperson IA Rehman said that the government is becoming opaque rather than being transparent in its decision making and governance.

On the one hand, there is unprecedented censorship witnessed across different forms of media. On the other hand, rifts and divisions have appeared among the judiciary, the bar and trade unions which have led to a weakening of the collective struggle for fundamental rights. Citizens have the right to know which bills are introduced in Parliament and any policies and decisions made by the government that affect their lives.

Shahzad Ahmed, Iqbal Khattak and Murtaza Solangi deliberated at length on the obvious and latent restrictions imposed on freedom of expression through silencing or manipulating voices in the print, electronic and social media. 

Advocate Haider Imtiaz emphasised the importance of subordinate legislation for the protection of the freedom and fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution.

Romana Bashir highlighted the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan. Religious extremism continues to spread unabated and is used as a tool of oppression. National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said that civil society organisations, especially women’s organisations, are affected the most by the growing trend of curbs on social spaces by the government.

She reminded the seminar about the significance of the role of women and civil society in resistance against oppression. Tahira Abdullah stressed the need to clean educational curriculum of any hate material, which she said remains a part of school textbooks and develops a bigoted mindset.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General HRCP Harris Khalique said that not only there is a need to realise that fundamental freedoms are under attack but it is more important to devise a collective strategy by trade unions, professional associations, citizens’ organisations, academia, media and political parties to ensure federalism, democracy and equal citizenship. He also said that it is in the interest of the state to hear critical voices and change its course for the benefit of the country and its people.