Reeled In

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The Caravan: July 1, 2016

A rash of film bans portends rising censorship in Pakistan

On the evening of 5 May, I joined about two-dozen people at a small private venue in Karachi, to watch a film we were not supposed to watch. Security was tight. The attendees—mostly journalists, activists and filmmakers—had all been told of the event only a day earlier, and we were asked to show our national identity cards while entering the building, through a rear exit. Before the screening, one of the film’s directors laid down two strict rules: no photographs, no social media.

The film being shown was Among the Believers, a documentary that profiles Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of an extremist network with links across the country. The film shows how the government’s failure to provide basic services for its people enables radical clerics to gain thousands of followers by offering free food, education and healthcare.

On 25 April, ten days before the secret screening, Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors, or CBFC, had banned the film. The directors, Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi, asked the CBFC to review the ban, but the body rejected their appeal, saying Among the Believers contained dialogue that projected a “negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fighting against extremism and terrorism.”

The Pakistani government has sporadically banned films over the last few years, but until now the targets of such censorship have mostly been Bollywood movies (last year, for example, Neerja and Phantom were banned). But when it comes to local cinema, censors have tended to be more permissive, recommending excisions instead of outright bans. Recently, however, this has changed. Among the Believers is one of three Pakistani films banned over a two-week period this spring. These bans, which targeted content deemed anti-Pakistani, point to a growing censorship of the country’s film industry, and the state’s tightening grip on freedom of expression.

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Photo: Still from Besieged in Quetta

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Quetta’s Hazaras: Old wounds, new fears

The Express Tribune: January 22, 2015

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There are some days when Jawad Hazara follows his son Ibtihaj’s school van as it ferries the 12-year-old boy from his home in Quetta’s Gulistan Town till the entrance to the cantonment area where Army Public School and College Seven Streams is located.

“Sometimes my heart will not rest until I see that van enter the cantonment,” Jawad says. After the attack last month on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Jawad feels his son is in greater danger, particularly in a city where his distinct features mark him out as an easy target. “If they can do that to army children, just imagine what would happen if someone entered Ibtihaj’s school. He is a Hazara boy. If anyone came to attack the students, the Hazaras would be killed first,” Jawad says.

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The Fix: How a drug rehabilitation centre in Quetta is tackling addiction

The Express Tribune: October 19, 2014

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A whiteboard in the reception of the Milo Shaheed Welfare Trust in Quetta, Balochistan, is testament to the centre’s success in treating drug users. Every day, it is updated with the total number of under-treatment patients and includes Pashtuns, Hazaras, Baloch, Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris, Hindus and Christians. Afghans and Iranis cross the border into Pakistan as word-of-mouth about the treatment offered at MST travels. The board is placed under calligraphic text that reads, ‘Allah will provide for you’

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