Pakistan Army shuts down military forum critical of army’s role in Pakistani politics

Asim Munir is considered an officer with an 'impeccable reputation' within the Pakistani military

Pakistan Defence Forum ( shut down indefinitely on orders from Pakistan military’s General Headquarters (GHQ). Most members were openly against the GHQ and in support of Imran Khan. The owner of the websites was ordered to shut down the website and family members of the website owner were threatened by the Pakistani intelligence services ISI.

This decision comes after Pakistan Army veterans Adil Raja and Haider Mehdi who favored western military hardware, critial of Chinese military hardware were declared “traitors”.

It was believed that Pakistan Army Chief General Syed Asim Munir was irritated by the comments made by some of the forum members about purchasing Chinese J-10 fighter jets, type 054 frigates, type 039 subnarines and HQ-16 air defense systems.

Chinese-made military hardware proved ineffective and non-operational in many aspects once inducted in Pakistani armed forces, according to Pakistani security experts and media.

Syed Asim Munir is a Pakistani army general and has been the Chief of Army Staff since 29 November 2022. Before becoming the army chief, he was posted at the GHQ as Quartermaster general. He commanded the Corps in Gujranwala from 17 June 2019 to 6 October 2021.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has nominated Lieutenant General Asim Munir as the new army chief, putting an end to days of uncertainty that engulfed the nation.

Journalists and employees of the private news channel ARY hold a protest in August in Islamabad against their channel being taken off the air. Pakistani authorities revoked its broadcast permit for airing an interview with an opposition party official who was accused of inciting soldiers and officers against the military leadership. [File: AP]

Munir, whose nomination was approved by President Arif Alvi on Thursday evening, takes charge of the 600,000-strong nuclear-armed army on November 29 when incumbent General Qamar Javed Bajwa retires after a six-year stint.

Free speech under threat

Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press with certain restrictions. However, in practice, freedom of speech is restricted through censorship of media and the Internet.

Pakistan has improved its position on the World Press Freedom Index by scaling up seven points. According to the recently released data of the annual World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan now ranks 150 out of 180 countries. In contrast, it stood at 157 in the previous year’s index.

Blacket ban on pro Imran Khan media

Responding to the ban on broadcasting speeches of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan and suspension of transmission of private news network ARY TV in Pakistan by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on Sunday, Rehab Mahamoor, research assistant for South Asia at Amnesty International, said:

“The blanket ban on an opposition leader’s speeches and suspension of ARY News is a disturbing demonstration of how successive Pakistani authorities target critical voices and use the country’s media regulatory authority to threaten press freedom.

Imran Khan is seen here at a rally.

“Overbroad use of bans on news and media publications constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression. Criticism of state institutions cannot be considered hate speech as has been suggested by PEMRA. Any limitations on the right to freedom of expression must be on a case-to-case basis and deemed to be necessary and proportionate conforming to international human rights laws and standards.

“The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Pakistan is a signatory. The Pakistani authorities must withdraw any blanket bans and stop cracking down on journalists and media houses that publish content critical of the government.”

On the evening of 5 March 2023, Pakistan’s media regulator banned television channels from broadcasting speeches and news conferences by Imran Khan, accusing the former prime minister of attacking the state’s institutions and promoting hatred. It also suspended the licence of ARY News, a private news channel.

This is the third ban on broadcasting and rebroadcasting of the ex-Prime Minister’s speeches and press talks on all satellite TV channels since he was ousted from power.

Amnesty International has previously documented how successive governments use PEMRA to issue “politically motivated bans” against media houses whose political leanings do not align with that of the government.

The authorities further tightened control of the media. Media workers reported increased coercion, censorship and arrests of journalists.

On 13 April the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested eight people in the province of Punjab for allegedly organizing a smear campaign on social media against state institutions.

On 5 July, police arrested journalist Imran Riaz Khan on sedition-related charges related to criticism of the military. He was arrested under provisions of the Penal Code, including defamation, and various sections of the draconian Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. On 7 July, a court ordered his release but the police immediately re-arrested him. On 9 July he was released on bail. He had not been brought to trial by the end of the year.

On 21 May, Shireen Mazari, a senior leader of the PTI political party, was detained by police near her home in Islamabad. She was arrested in connection with a 1972 land dispute, but her family suggested that the arrest was politically motivated due to her criticism of the government and the military. She was freed the same day on the orders of the Islamabad High Court. A case was registered against her daughter, Imaan Hazir-Mazari, for making “derogatory” statements against the army following her mother’s arrest. On 20 June, the charges against Imaan Hazir-Mazari were dropped after she issued a statement of regret.

On 1 July, unidentified men attacked Ayaz Amir, a senior analyst with Dunya News. Days earlier he had allegedly criticized Imran Khan and the military during a seminar.

In October, Arshad Sharif, a journalist and well-known supporter of Imran Khan, was killed in Kenya, where he had allegedly taken refuge after facing threats in Pakistan. A two-member government committee was tasked with investigating and in December, concluded that the killing had been a “planned assassination.”

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