Islamabad-Pakistan People’s Party Senator Farhatullah Babar yesterday said that the misuse of cyber crimes laws against bloggers and journalists had stifled the freedom of expression and prevented alternate narrative against violent extremism.

Speaking at a seminar on countering violent extremism organised by the National Commission on Human Rights here, he said, “Respect for the right of freedom of expression is basic to countering the extremists’ narrative.”

The Senate Human Rights Committee, he said, was horrified to learn recently that no relative of the over 50 mutilated bodies of missing persons came forward to lodge the First Information Report.

This, he said, was a measure of the alienation of the people from the state and society and the criminal justice system.

“This deafening silence of the affected families conceals a turbulence that can sweep everything,” he warned.

To fight militant mindset we need to build intellectual infrastructure that rests on the foundations of free inquiry and free debate not only in academic institutions but as a way of life, he added. However, while freedom of expression is threatened the militants have a field day to propagate hate speech and extremist ideology, he said.

In the name of national security the right to freedom of expression has often been stifled, he said citing the example of the arrest of a journalist in Quetta after he posted a query about the commissions paid to Frontier Constabulary by coal miners on his social media account.

“Crushing space for dissent and stifling freedom of expression by the state encourages the militants’ to stifle dissent of their narrative,” he said.

Senator Babar said extremist mindset cannot be fought militarily; it can be fought by building an intellectual infrastructure.

The state’s abdication of its responsibility towards the rights of citizens creates a void which is filled by charity wings of militant non-state actors whether in providing education, relief in disaster situations serving as a force multiplier for the militants’ narrative, he said.

As for the Parliament, Babar said, it can make laws but not implement them. “The parliament made the law in 2013 forbidding banned organizations from resurrection and asked why it was not being implemented and banned outfits like Jaishe Muhammad and its leader Moulana Masood Azhar were being protected from punitive action by the UN,” he added.