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Lahore Literary Festival: ‘Courage harbinger of better things to come’

Saadia Salahuddin
Monday, Mar 21, 2022

LAHORE: People’s aspirations for human rights do not diminish. Democracy has always been challenged. Are we going to sit back as silent spectators? Things are happening at a certain level, and we are just watching as if a cricket match were going on. Disappearances is a serious offence.

Pioneering lawyer in human rights Hina Jilani expressed these views in a session on ‘Prison Diaries; Waning Freedoms for Writers and Activists?’ on the second day of Lahore Literary Festival. The other speakers were Ahdaf Souife, a well-known novelist from Egypt, and Daniel Hilton, head of news for the Middle East Eye, an important journalistic voice covering the Arab world. Saroop Ijaz, lawyer and human rights activist, was the moderator. “Today we are celebrating what struggle for human rights can lead into. Even if we haven’t achieved much, the struggle is necessary. Success is only a bonus. Only in struggle there is a hope. It will not stop those who are struggling. We have to fight authoritarianism, understand the challenge of religious extremist groups. People fear to profess their religion. We have to keep confronting these issues. Have the confidence in your ability to promote your rights,” she said.

“We are also here to sensitise judiciary – a very painful journey both for victims we are trying to protect, and for us. There are consequences of courage but the courage to go on counts. Courage to break the silence is a harbinger of better things to come,” Hina Jilani said and recalled how her father paraded in front of the GHQ in a protest.

Ahdaf Souife talked about her nephew Alaa Abd El Fattah’s struggle to voice his concerns at violations of human rights since 2011. How writings make a difference is evident from Alaa’s consistent effort to raise voice against oppression in Egypt, a country that has 60,000 political prisoners. “Very many of them are opinion leaders who have a lot to contribute,” said Ahdaf. Aala has more than a million followers on social media. “His writings elicited response from people. He writes about how capital finance works. He was setting up initiatives that gave rise to democracy. He served five years sentence from 2014-2019. Articles written in prison were smuggled out and were published only on social media,” she said. Aala was denied access to a lawyer. He wrote about disregard for procedure. She said her nephew was accused of retweeting a tweet. She wondered what has happened to the judicial system. She read an excerpt from his book to be published. It was something to this effect, “They refuse to register complaint of torture but charge for writing something on Internet.” Alaa was charged for insulting judiciary. Alaa’s work titled ‘You have not been defeated yet’ he wrote in 2019 while in lockup in a police station, will be published soon. State is no longer gatekeepers of information, Saroop said. Daniel Hilton said the Arab world is copying Egypt’s methods in the way it has coped with the dissidents, adding, “regimes are finding ways to punish people.” There were 23 sessions on day 2 of LLF. Several book launches, sessions with artists, sessions on climate crisis, rights issues and on video games and much more.