Serious concerns have been raised regarding academic freedom and state repression in universities in Pakistan in a letter that is being circulated on social media, signed by faculty members and academicians close to 150 in number. The letter speaks about various instances where the state intervened in the activities of universities in what they say ‘signal a closure of intellectual space within the country.’
The letter says that between April 12 and 13, 2018, there have been four instances of repression that took place in university campuses in different parts of the country.
The first intervention has been cited to have happened in Habib University in Karachi on April 13 2018. The event titled ‘Ethnic Rights, New Social Movements, and the State of the Federation in Pakistan,’ was forcibly cancelled an hour before the time the event was set to begin, according to the letter. The cancellation happened after a visit from state functionaries and one of the guest speakers was forced off campus by the university security even though he was there on invitation by the university itself. The event was intended to be a teach-in with panel discussion in which various new social movements emerging across the country would be analyzed and discussed by experts from the field.
The second event was planned to be held in Lahore University of Management Sciences on April 13. This event was organized to commemorate Mashal Khan, a student who was brutally murdered by a mob one year ago in Abdul Wali Khan University. It was intended to be an occasion for students to come together and mourn the loss of a fellow student who dedicated his short life to raising his voice in the struggle for peace and justice. This event too, was cancelled forcibly.
In the third instance, an Assistant Professor at Punjab University in the Department of Sociology, Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, was abruptly fired with no official reason given by the university administration. Dr. Jan, who received his PhD from Cambridge University, had been working alongside students since July 2017. Dr. Ammar’s work was voluntary and was with the aim of promoting the idea of non-violence and critical thinking. The letter describes his dismissal as ‘disrespectful’ and ‘humiliating.’ This ‘raises serious concerns about the treatment of faculty members at all universities,’ the letter said.
The fourth incident stated is that of faculty and administration at Gomal University in DI Khan being visited by state functionaries and questioned about the content of their courses. The faculty and administration were given a warning to not teach subjects that would encourage critical thinking amongst the students. The letter calls the intervention ‘an attempt to stifle critical thought and hamper learning.’
Faculty from various universities across Pakistan and the world, including University of Toronto, Canada, Cambridge University, Cornell University have signed the letter. They consider these interventions as part of a wider trend of state repression of academic spaces and critical thinking and has urged the relevant authorities to take action against those responsible and to ensure that our universities remain free from outside interference in the future.