Let’s not mince words. Day by day, it seems the government is treading a dangerously regressive path. In the past few weeks, we have seen arrests on what appear to be flimsy grounds and we have seen notices sent to certain opinion-makers on even flimsier grounds. Maybe out of dissatisfaction or perhaps emboldened by the lack of public resistance, the government has now decided to go one step further. No longer, it seems, it feels the need for subtlety or subterfuge. It has simply decreed that media coverage of politicians convicted or under trial for alleged crimes is to be blocked.
“Those who have plundered national wealth and brought the country on the verge of collapse should not be glorified,” Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan as saying following the cabinet meeting in which this decision was taken. “No democracy permits interviews and media coverage of those who have been arrested on charges of corruption,” claimed the minister, although he might not like to know that he is not quite right about that.
For some observers, the move is simply the government’s tit-for-tat response to the opposition’s threat to oust the Senate chairman. But even as we debate the former’s intentions, we can no longer ignore that something deeply unsettling is quite likely to happen. Simply as a precedent, such a wide gag order is an immensely dangerous step. Even more alarming, however, is the jubilation with which a significant chunk of the populace is welcoming the government’s heavy-handed approach.
Many may be riding a wave of populist euphoria for now, but it would do well to remember what a US president once said. Once a government is committed to silencing the opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2019.
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