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EDITORIAL: The speeches made by some of the speakers at the recently-held Asma Jahangir Conference have caused a considerable controversy. Two speakers — Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister of Pakistan and Ali Ahmed Kurd, a firebrand former president of Supreme Court Bar Association — in particular stepped up their criticism of country’s institutions. What is important to note in this regard is the fact that both of them were demonstrating ample aggression and willingness to take on the country’s higher judiciary in presence of Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, who was invited to this very well-attended conference as a key-note speaker. The CJP was perhaps without any emotion; he wasn’t showing what he was feeling and he accepted whatever was happening around him with stoic calm.

Unfortunately, however, the government’s response to the event (the Asma Jahangir Conference) in general and the speech of PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif in particular is characterized by lack of loss of dignity and honour. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, too, was invited to the conference as one of the speakers. But he declined to attend it for whatever reasons. He himself and his cabinet colleagues must have realised by now that his absence at the conference deprived the incumbent government of an opportunity to rail against “fugitive” Nawaz et al in an equal measure. In other words, the principal government spokesman committed a big blunder by not exercising his right to freedom of expression at that event. The explanations honourable information minister has been proffering since are not convincing, to say the least.

We as a nation have failed to create a society in which everyone has a fair and equal chance of succeeding. What is, however, more important to note in this regard is the fact that a large number of leading lawyers, including the incumbent leadership of Supreme Court Bar Association, have put their weight behind Nawaz Sharif’s right to freedom of expression. According to them, no convict can be deprived of his fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression. This constitutional posture that they have adopted is indeed praiseworthy. They have every right to derive strength for their arguments from the fact that the late Asma Jahangir had advocated for Altaf Husain, the founder of MQM, the grant of same constitutional right that the Lahore High Court had taken away from him. It is true that the word ‘constitutionalism’ loses its meaning and constitution becomes an illusory document in the absence of fundamental rights. Last but not least, hats off to CJP for clearly displaying a conduct which is guided by nothing but deep professional ethics. He showed wisdom, magnanimity and generosity of spirit.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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