Distinguished Professor Ali Riaz has published a commentary on the state of freedom of expression in South Asia, following the cancellation of an academic conference on Pakistan. The five-day long virtual conference was to begin on March 23. It was organized jointly by the School of Humanities and Social Science of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the Institute of Pakistan Studies of Quaid-i-Azam University.
The conference, titled “Commemorating 50 years of the 1971 War: War, Violence and Memory,” was supposed to feature presentations on the 1971 war, the genocide in Bangladesh and related issues. The Pakistan Army unleashed a genocide against the ethnic Bengali community in what was then East Pakistan leading to the independence of Bangladesh. The conference was canceled after organizers faced threats as its focus didn’t reflect the official narrative of the government and the establishment. Riaz argued that the verbal attacks on the organizers is a testimony to the intolerant environment.
The forced cancellation indicates two things. Firstly, questioning the official narrative has been considered unacceptable. Secondly, the act of silencing or censoring those individuals or organizations who are trying to offer a different narrative has been franchised; it has now been handed over to individuals loyal to the dominant or official narrative. The commentary is published in The Daily Star.