An empty chair on the panel where Ammar Ali Jan was supposed to speak, but he was not allowed to. In a last minute change, four speakers who were scheduled to speak at the Faiz International Festival in Lahore on Saturday and Sunday were prohibited from speaking. MNA Ali Wazir, academic Ammar Ali Jan, singer and activist Taimur Rahman and former editor Rashed Rahman were informed by the organisers hours before the event that their names have been removed from the list of panelists due to ‘external pressure’. “I was informed by the management that they are under pressure from security agencies to cancel my invitation. This is yet another attempt by the powers-that-be to intimidate dissenting voices,” MNA Ali Wazir told Daily Times. He added that he does not blame the organisers because the entire state machinery is against the Pakhtun activists due to their criticism of the establishment’s policies. Ammar Ali Jan says he was told by the organisers that the festival could have been cancelled if they did not comply with the ‘external’ order. “If Faiz had been alive today, he wouldn’t have cared about these threats,” he told Daily Times. Ammar further said that those who were dis-invited were not the actual target. “The powers-that-be just wanted to send out a message that even at festivals like these, they call the shots,” he said.. MNA Ali Wazir says he was informed by the Faiz Festival management that they are under pressure from security agencies to cancel his invitation About the response to the development, Ammar said that the act backfired because it was made into a much bigger issue than it was, as student activists made their presence at the festival felt by protesting the clampdown on free speech. He, however, added that the organisers are not to be blamed because considering the state of affairs, one can’t expect anyone to stand up to pressure. “But the incident once again exposed the ill-intentions of those who want to curb free speech,” he said, adding that the development has generated debate about the extent of censorship on social media, which is a silver lining. A number of panelists including author Mohammed Hanif and activist Aisha Ahmad spoke out against the last-minute changes during their talk. On the occasion, student activists chanted slogans in support of the speakers who were barred from speaking. Published in Daily Times, November 20th 2018.