Brave voices all over the world have tirelessly struggled and advocated for the protection of human dignity and rights in the face of brutal authoritarian regimes. From Guatemala in the 1960s to Chile in the 1970s; from the Philippines to Argentina; from Honduras to Columbia: there is perhaps no corner of the world that has not witnessed such tragedies. Pakistan is no exception to the trend. In fact, the struggles continue.Some have chosen the pen as their weapon while others have taken up arms. Some have opted for confrontation while others pave the way for dialogue. Regardless of the means people have chosen, there is absolutely no doubt that human beings have suffered in the battle against oppression and the struggle for freedom of belief and expression. These courageous sources of inspiration have had to jump through all sorts of hurdles, including torture, violence, threats, and propaganda. Despite the fact that governments are established to protect citizens and to safeguard their fundamental human rights, it is an unfortunate and terrifying reality that our state institutions meant to protect us also indulge in massive human rights violations. This is the ultimate paradox: those in the echelons of power who have sworn to protect us are the very people who use these corridors of power to suppress us and strip us of our human dignity.In Pakistan, even the most conservative of estimates illustrate a deep-seated problem with the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elite. Recently, we saw the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) speak up on behalf of the voiceless to demand truth and accountability for the families of missing persons across the country. Like many human rights groups before them, the PTM was labelled “anti-state” and “foreign-funded”. Spokespersons of the establishment stepped forward to delegitimise the very real concerns of the oppressed people of FATA. Since that day, efforts by the State of Pakistan to take responsibility for its failure to protect its citizens have been far too lax. In Pakistan, even the most conservative of estimates illustrate a deep-seated problem with the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling eliteMuch has been written on the issue of disappearances (by myself as well), therefore I do not wish to delve into that topic in this article. Instead, through this use of my pen, I seek to make a personal appeal on behalf of those whose families have been ripped apart. Before doing so, however, it is pertinent to present the facts pertaining to a personal tragedy relevant to this appeal. Through narration of this tragedy, I hope to emphasise the importance of freedom of speech and the right to due process.My grandfather, Taufiq Rafat, the pioneer of “Pakistani idiom”, suffered a stroke in 1984. He was a quiet man, who rarely spoke through any means other than his poetry. During the fascist regime of Zia-ul-Haq, Rafat was dragged from his home in front of his wife and young children in the late hours of the night to be produced before a military court. What possible crime could this silent and sensitive soul have committed that fell within the scope of business of military courts? None. He was a pawn in General Zia’s obsessive struggle to delegitimise Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. During this unnecessary and unwarranted detention, Rafat was also placed in solitary confinement and consequently suffered a nervous breakdown. The ordeal he was put through — for absolutely no reason at all — haunts his family to this day. When I was younger, I asked his son (my father) why he didn’t go public with Rafat’s story so people could know how Pakistan’s security agencies had abused their power. In response, he told me that Pakistan’s security agencies had done much worse, and that everyone knew how things were in this country.The people of Pakistan have suffered enough, whether under authoritarian regimes or democratically elected governments. Pakistan has a Constitution; it has a court system; why then are its own citizens treated with such contempt by the state?Today, it is with a heavy heart that I say that families continue to be torn apart due to the high-handedness of security agencies. Despite the fact that Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, many citizens continue to be harassed and silenced for rightly questioning the State’s excesses. God has been merciful in protecting some of us against unlawful abduction, torture and murder but others have not been so fortunate. It is for them that I make this personal appeal, hoping and praying for the sake of these families and the future of Pakistan that those who have the power to change course finally decide the time has come to do so. It takes societies decades to heal from the pain inflicted upon them as a consequence of state brutality. This brutality erodes the fabric of society until there is nothing left to bind us together. Demands for safeguarding the right to life and the right to freedom of expression should not be labelled “anti-State” but should be seen for what they are: pleas to move forward by healing the wounds of the past. Without truth, there can be no justice and without justice, there can be no progress.The people of Pakistan have suffered enough, whether under authoritarian regimes or democratically elected governments. Pakistan has a Constitution; it has a court system; why then are its own citizens treated with such contempt by the state? There is no institution above criticism and those who question the state cannot be made to disappear for exercising their fundamental human rights. A national truth and reconciliation commission must be established at the earliest before our society is irreparably scarred. The writer is a lawyerPublished in Daily Times, September 27th 2018.