It has been a roller-coaster ride for human rights in Pakistan this year. On October 16, 2017, Pakistan and 11 other countries became members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Pakistan secured more than two-thirds of votes. The news went viral and Pakistan used this success at international level to portray Pakistan as defender of human rights

We will be discussing the highs and lows of the state of human rights in Pakistan in 2017 with a hope that 2018 will foster the climate of peaceful environment that will nourish end to human rights violations in Pakistan. In 2017 all was not well when it came to the issue of missing people that went missing right after every important national debate on human rights .

Just seven days before the Human Rights Day which was celebrated on December 10, peace activist Raza Khan went missing in Lahore. He was lead campaigner for the Pakistan-India youth interaction for promotion of peace. He was convener for the Pakistan chapter of the Aghaz-e-Dosti organization.

Peace activist Raza Mahmood Khan reportedly gone missing since Saturday evening on 2nd December 2017 after he arranged a interactive session on extremism and religious party’s sit-in in Islamabad that was held at ‘Lowkey Lokai’ a public space located in room 709, Al Qadeer Heights, Main Boulevard, Gulberg.

The 37-year-old activist recently completed his Masters from Punjab University’s Gender Studies Department. He was very active in running human rights campaigns. Raza had his own organization named “Hum Sab Aik Hain”. He is from Kasur.

According to his close friend Umair Vehidy, whom he knew for the last seven years Raza is convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, which is a joint initiative of India-based Mission Bhartiyam and Pakistan-based The Catalyst of Peace (TCP). Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a youth organization that promotes citizen diplomacy through peace education.

Leading human rights activist of Pakistan IA Rehman paid glowing tributes to Raza Mahmood. “He is a great activist who had devoted his life to fighting for human rights . They were organizing seminars and discussions so that they could discover rounds of friendship between Pakistan and India.

Human rights activists all over the country are extremely concerned about his disappearance and call upon authorities to trace him. We do not know how he has disappeared. It is a case of forced disappearance,” Rehman maintained.  

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan highlighted some positive human rights developments in its quarterly HRCP report including issuance of the first gender neutral passport in June this year was a positive development with regard to rights in Pakistan.

It was the first Pakistani passport with the ‘third-gender’ option was issued to Farzana Riaz, a transgender activist and president of rights organization, TransAction. The longstanding demand of the third-gender community was heard and they were given their due right.

Allama Iqbal Open University weighed in the national debate on giving rights to the third-gender and offered free education to third-gender students from Matric to PhD degrees.   

The year started with roads closure for public in Lahore as Punjab government closed down Lahore apparently to prevent a protest with containers. The tradition of roads blockage with containers was the continuing of the legacy which started in 2014 PTI’s sit in Islamabad. The frequent blockage of roads during protests by the government is restriction of freedom of movement.

When we talk about the media and their rights exercised in 2017 we see a bleak picture. The 28-hour blackout of private news channels and social media across Pakistan by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority received sheer criticism from the digital rights activists and journalist fraternity. The government stopped the broadcast of the news channels except the state channel PTV, to hide from public the live coverage of government’s Faizabad operation. The effort to silence the media received no appreciation from any corner of society but it opened a debate on the ‘journalism with responsibility’.

TV news channels were asked to refrain themselves from live broadcast of the Faizabad operation by law enforcement agencies but the electronic media refused to do so. Senior journalists and columnists pointed out the lack of responsibility at media’s side too and urged all media to be more responsible.

The Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu is very hopeful and determined that state of human rights are improving as provincial government has been making efforts to give equal rights and respect to all citizens. The minister said that Christians are two percent of the population in Pakistan and minorities in Pakistan have full independence. They have equal and basic rights. He said every year the government of Punjab provides a special grant for religious festivals like Christmas, Holi and Divali. The minister said the government of Punjab had established a taskforce to ensure the action plan for human rights .

The 2018 is the year which will mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . On this note we can conclude this that the national discourse on the freedom of expression in Pakistan which according to some analysts is shrinking will flourish and every citizen regardless of his/her faith, creed and religion would express opinion in the national debate discourse on the challenges which we are facing collectively. That, however, is not a justification for state to restrain public from knowing the information, which is their right to know.