The recent death of over a thousand people in Mina, Saudi Arabia, while performing the sacred ritual of Hajj (pilgrimage) raised waves of sorrow as well as concerns over the safety of pilgrims heading Saudi Arabia from all over the world each year. But something far worse happened in Pakistan: the state ordered electronic media not to criticize Saudi management for lapses in safety measures at Mina.
Last week, the freedom of electronic media in Pakistan suffered a big blow when the country’s regulatory authority for electronic media, PEMRA, warned the electronic media against criticizing the Saudi government over what happened in Mina. The government of Pakistan, as if in an effort to justify via an explanation this imposition on media, wrote to the media houses that since Pakistan’s constitution does not allow anything that hurts relations with friendly countries, they must not point fingers at the Saudi regime.
In plain language, since Saudi Arabia has been heavily funding Pakistan for certain, self-interested projects and goals, Pakistan should ignore the dark or bad side of Saudi Arabia even when media reports and first-hand accounts from the Hajj incident point to faulty management leading to all the destruction of lives that the world witnessed in Mina last month, including over 80 dead Pakistanis, while dozens other are still missing. This level of state control of media is alarming, leading to serious questions about the country’s own independence and claims of democracy.
The fact that Pakistan’s ruling prime minister Nawaz Sharif has the closest possible ties with the Saudi Arabian royalty and was literally saved from a life in prison after his government was toppled by former military chief Pervez Musharraf in 1999 is the notable background to the current regulatory order directed at media. But also relevant is the observation that the Mina tragedy tarnished Saudi image in Pakistan. With all their ignorance, blind religious devotion, and unquestioned allegiance to the land of their idolized prophet Muhamad, losing loved ones to death and the uncertainty of disappearance in the biggest stampede thousands of miles away from home has shook the affected Pakistanis, albeit for a moment.
The current Pakistani government’s role, at the same time, is characteristic of the dictators or emperors that represent personal interest, or the interest of an elite over the populace. In a time when the people’s loss needs a voice their elected government is supposed to carry to the responsible quarters, the state itself is stifling the cries for justice, for at least an investigation.
About the Author
Ernest Dempsey is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist based in Orlando, FL. He runs a popular blog Word Matters! at http://www.ernestdempsey.com/ and edits the journal and its blog Recovering the Self. Dempsey is a sceptic, vegetarian, and advocate for animal and human rights.