THE farce that is the ‘case’ against Dr Hasan Zafar Arif is being taken to ever more dangerous extremes. The elderly, retired philosophy professor, who suffers from a heart condition, is to stand trial for the ‘crime’ of having facilitated and listened to hate speech — a reference to the incendiary address delivered last July by Altaf Hussain, whose party he joined but recently. Dr Arif’s ordeal began in October when he was arrested by the Sindh Rangers along with another member of MQM-London from outside the Karachi Press Club where they were to address a news conference. First, he was detained in Central Jail for two months under the oppressive, colonial-era Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance and subsequently remanded to prison by an antiterrorism court on charges registered under sections of the penal code that included, among others, those pertaining to promoting enmity between different groups and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, as well as Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Last Wednesday, the administrative judge of the ATCs sent his case for trial.
The state is courting ridicule by proceeding in this manner against a renowned educationist with several achievements — both national and international — to his credit. Amnesty International has launched an appeal for action pointing out the multiple violations of Dr Arif’s rights to due process and proper medical care, and urging Pakistan’s civilian leadership to address these concerns. As anyone who is aware will vouch, the life of this scholar has always been animated by progressive ideals, in support of causes that have earlier put him in the cross hairs of dictatorial regimes. To accuse him of furthering the cause of terrorism only exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of the forces that have, for some time now, resorted to political victimisation on the pretext of tackling crime and fighting terrorism. The truth is that whether or not one agrees with his politics, Dr Arif is a prisoner of conscience whose only ‘crime’ is that he belongs to the MQM’s London-based faction.