The author of a book apparently banned by Pakistani authorities for describing his time in prison for his ties to a civil rights movement says he will challenge the ban in a court of law.
Alamzaib Khan Mahsud says the ban on his book I Am Not The Accused, I Am The Complainant violates the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Pakistani Constitution.
“If they do not take this ban back, then I will take it to court,” he told Radio Mashaal. “This ban is a continuation of the atrocities we endure,” he added. “They oppress us and then try to silence us, too.”
Mashud’s Urdu-language book details his nine-month detention at a prison in the southern seaport city of Karachi, where he was kept after his arrest on terrorism and rioting charges. The 107-page monograph also chronicles his role in probing the cases of alleged disappearances and his work with the victims of landmines. The book also discusses the reasons behind the rise of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
After its emergence in February 2018, the movement demanded accountability for alleged targeted killings, forced disappearances, landmines, and other atrocities by the security forces and the Taliban, which Mahsud and other PTM leaders say disproportionally impacted the Pashtuns, Pakistan’s largest ethnic minority.
“I consider my book to be a charge sheet of the atrocities our people have endured,” he said. “My book also documents how I was deprived of all rights after I was arrested [in January 2019],” he added. “I can back up all the claims I made in the book with evidence. If they have a problem, they should go to a court of law so that I can defend my work.”
The ban appears to be part of Islamabad’s crackdown on the PTM. Mahsud and hundreds of the movement’s supporters have been arrested or still face court cases because of their activism. Some PTM supporters and leaders were also killed after being shot by the security forces or attacked by unknown gunmen. The movement’s media coverage is still largely banned in the country’s media. Even opposition parties now appear keen to distance themselves from PTM leaders.
Yar Akbar Shinwari, a publisher and bookshop owner in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, says his businesses were shut for two days following the November 26 ban.
“A government official collected copies of the book and shut my businesses,” he told Radio Mashaal. “We later learned that our shops were closed because of allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions,” he added. “But we are very careful with the coronavirus and even keep a box of masks to offer to customers who attempt to enter our shop without them.”
Tanzilur Rehman, an assistant commissioner who confiscated up to 40 copies of Mahsud’s book from Shinwari’s shop, says the publisher of the book was not registered with the authorities.
“I don’t know what the exact problem with the book was, but I had orders from the government to confiscate its copies, which I followed,” he told Radio Mashaal while refusing to elaborate which specific government official or organization ordered the confiscation. “All publishers are required to be registered because they might publish books that are not good for society.”
Rehman said he shuttered Shinwari’s business for violating government coronavirus restrictions. “I closed the shop because no one was wearing a mask there, which is a violation of our SOPs,” he added, alluding to the government’s Standard Operating Procedures imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Mahsud, however, says he paid a relatively unknown publisher to print his book so that he could keep the publishing rights. He says the government should explain the exact reasons for banning his book.
He says his book has already been published in the Pashto language and has seen soaring demand.
“This will not benefit the government and will only help in raising curiosity about the book so it will be read widely,” he noted.