Over 100 academics in top public and private universities of Pakistan and the world have voiced their opinion against what they claim is stifling of intellectual discourse in universities and restrictions on freedom of speech in the Pakistani academia.
In a letter signed by faculty members and Pakistani PhD candidates in universities across Pakistan and the world, including IBA, LUMS, Quaid-e-Azam University, University of Toronto, FCC, University of California, Lahore School of Economics and BNU, the academics have drawn the public’s attention towards several incidents that occurred in universities across Pakistan, signalling a “closure of intellectual space within the country”.
The letter states that between April 12 and 13, “four separate but related instances of repression took place on university campuses in different parts of the country”, raising serious concerns among the teacher’s community regarding the fate of freedom of discussion and speech in the country.
The first hint of these increasing limitations on debate and discourse, according to the letter, came to the surface when an event titled Ethnic Rights, New Social Movements, and the State of the Federation in Pakistan to be held at Habib University Karachi on April 13 was cancelled at the eleventh hour. The event was to include panel discussions on new social movements emerging across the country would be. The concerned academicians have lamented that not was the event cancelled, but a guest speaker, originally invited by the university, was forced off campus by the security.
Another event scheduled on April 13 at LUMS to commemorate the life murdered Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan was also called off on the day of event.
The academics have also decried the fact that a Sociology assistant professor at Punjab University was fired without warning or explanation. With a PhD from Cambridge, the professor had been striving to promote the ideology of non-violence and critical thinking, the letter states. The academics say the treatment was disrespectful to the profession and faculty members.
Finally, the letter raised serious concerns about the questioning of faculty and administration at Gomal University in DI Khan by state officials about the content of their courses. The letter claims that the faculty and administration warned against teach “subjects that encourage critical thinking amongst the students”.
Raising their voice against the incidents, the academics say all four events “are part of a wider trend that stifles critical thinking and discussion on university campuses. As faculty members, we believe the university must be a space where faculty and students are free to share ideas and engage in thoughtful analysis of pressing social issues without experiencing fear or intimidation”.
The faculty members condemned the “intimidation and repression taking place in universities at the moment”, demanding the authorities act “against those responsible and to ensure that our universities remain free from outside interference in the future”.