Report from the Free University of Lahore

The Free University of Lahore reports on the continued censorship about the thousands of Baloch who have gone missing or been brutally murdered in southwest Pakistan.

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Recently, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Pakistan came under immense state pressure to suppress free speech. The School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at LUMS organized a Roundtable Talk titled “Unsilencing Balochistan”, to initiate a discussion about the human rights abuses by state and separatist elements in the province of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan. The event was to host the leaders of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), who made a Long-March longer than Gandhi’s Salt-March to demand answers from the state/military about the thousands of illegal abductions and killings of Baloch people. Local academics and journalists were also to take part in the discussion scheduled for 9 April.

Officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) came to the University on 8 April and ordered the cancellation of the event. They threatened the Head of the Department of the HSS, warning “or else…” if the students or faculty so much as say the word “Baloch”. As news reached social media, the propaganda wing of state agencies and ultranationalists started a #ShameOnLUMS campaign on Twitter. However, students and faculty chose not to stay quiet. They hit-back at the false propaganda and muzzling of freedom of expression.

At the time the event was intended to be held, students gathered in huge numbers in the centre of the university to lodge their protest, silently. Instead of saying Baloch, they played Baloch traditional music and silently listened to it. Students and some faculty addressed the crowd and reiterated their stance on academic freedom. They also managed to successfully silence the propaganda campaign using hashtags #LUMS4AcademicFreedom and #UnsilencingBalochistan. A cyber-attack was also launched on the university’s network, but was quickly stopped. The students are receiving solidarity and support from all over the world, and with hashtag #Pak4AcademicFreedom have been trending nationally in Pakistan.

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Menawhile, the event was re-located to Islamabad, where it was held on Saturday (11 April), yet with only one speaker from the original panel. The ongoing struggle for both freedom of expression and for the minorities of Pakistan (especially, the Baloch), will continue, and hopefully be strengthened by the solidarities and flurry of discussion around recent events (or cancellations).

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