The students of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) came out April 10 to peacefully protest the recent cancellation of an academic session focussed on Balochistan at LUMS.
The hashtags were used to share images of students holding up placards and posters, protesting the state’s decision to have the “Unsilencing Balochistan” session cancelled. The posters were emblazoned with slogans such as “talking about a province is not anti-state” and “you don’t believe in freedom of speech if you don’t believe in it for those who disagree with you.”
As Global Voices noted on April 9, when the event was supposed to be held:
Balochistan, Pakistan's largest, least populated and poorest province is witnessing its fifth separatist movement since 1947. Public discussions on Balochistan's war are rare. Nationalists think silence on Balochistan is their patriotic duty, others self-censor out of fear of Pakistan's powerful military. But few really understand what is going on in the southwestern province, because media coverage and reporting from there is thin.
The talk was meant to highlight the ongoing issues surrounding the restive province and in particular the plight of missing persons there.
By some estimates hundreds of people have gone missing in the Balochistan since 2010. Many of these ‘missing persons’ turn up dead later and in 2013 alone, 116 bodies were found in different locations across the region.
The relatives of many of these missing persons blame the army and their claims have been investigated by Pakistan's Supreme Court, although the Court's intervention failed to recover the missing persons.
Speaking about the cancellation of the LUMS event, a student of the School of Law there, Mirza Moiz Baig said:
The event’s cancellation is a blatant violation of our right to free speech. The whole point of free speech is to protect speech that invites conflict. Our intelligence agencies continue to remain engrossed in such matters and that explains their utter failure to do what their real job is. Silencing dissenting voices and traitor-shaming by those who stopped the talk is the very reason Balochistan is on the brink today.
The key point of the protests was that muzzling academic debate is not an act of patriotism. The campaign attempted to quaff accusations hurled at the esteemed university on social media yesterday, mainly on Twitter and Facebook, which attempted to portray LUMS and the panelists as anti-state and traitorous.
A university is a place for freedom of thought and speech; where critical thinking is nurtured in an academic setting with a view to developing a sense of judicious understanding of public life both past and present. In this regards under the re-mapping justice series, an event scheduled at LUMS for the 9th of April 2015 had to be cancelled on orders from the government, which was most unfortunate indeed. LUMS is committed to working with the government to find a way to allow the university to hold analytical talks on various topics that need to be debated in an objective and unbiased manner.
Unfortunately, there has been no statement from the government explaining its decision to have the session cancelled. Critics of the state's say such arbitrary censorship is unlikely to resolve the Balochistan question and that the country's political elite come to realise Balochistan is part of Pakistan and provide freedom of speech for people speaking up for change.
History suggests nothing else will lead to a sustainable peace in the province.