Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Any joke about Zardari a criminal offence in Pakistan

This letter is now illegal in Pakistan

From Tanveer Ansari | London Review of Books, Vol. 31, No. 15, August 6, 2009

Tariq Ali’s Diary notwithstanding, Asif Ali Zardari’s misdemeanours can no longer be satirised (LRB, 23 July). Helpless citizens who have been exchanging anti-Zardari jokes in which he is referred to as a dacoit, Mr Ten Per Cent, Mr Thirty Per Cent, as a US drone, a thief, a liar, a womaniser, a murderer, are to be deprived of this liberty. Rehman Malik, Zardari’s business associate, whose day job is to act as the country’s interior minister, has pushed through a new law that makes the circulation and transmission of ‘ill-motivated and concocted stories against the civilian leadership’ illegal; the authors of such stories will be ‘punished’.

It is a truly atrocious law and a serious blow to what few civil liberties and modes of expression we have left. It is unbelievable that it should have been passed so quietly, without any opposition in the National Assembly. Spoofing, spamming, and having an email address registered to a name other than the one on your passport are also punishable with jail sentences. The real joke is that these measures will increase the circulation of satirical jokes a hundredfold: they will travel by word of mouth, as they did in the days before mobile phones and the internet. Those who have been texting Zardari directly will, sadly, now have to search for other means to communicate with their leader. This letter is now illegal. Whether articles such as Ali’s are also proscribed has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile Muhammad Aslam, Benazir Bhutto’s former protocol officer and himself a lawyer, who was on guard duty on her jeep’s running board the day she was murdered, has publicly accused Rehman Malik, among others, of being a prime suspect in the case. Aslam has demanded that the police register a case against the interior minister. The worms are crawling out of the can, which might help explain the rush to introduce the new law.

Tanveer Ansari
Karachi

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