Why is the right to freedom of opinion and expression, contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), phrased in such a way so as to include “freedom to hold opinions without interference” and “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers”? How essential is freedom of opinion and expression for a society? The Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34, has answered this question, by deeming freedom of opinion and freedom of expression “indispensable conditions for the full development of the person”. In fact, freedom of expression, as per the Committee, is a “necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability” that are “essential for the promotion and protection of human rights”. The linkage between transparency and accountability, one the one hand, and freedom of expression, on the other, makes even more sense when we take a look at the growing attacks on journalists not only in Pakistan but across the world. In October 2017, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed when a car bomb blew up her vehicle in Bidnija, Malta. Galizia had been a vocal and persistent anti-corruption activist, extremely critical of the illicit activities of her government. Another investigative journalist who faced a similar fate was Jan Kuciak who was shot in Velka Maca, Slovakia after reporting on political corruption in his country. The most recent journalist to suffer a similar, yet perhaps even more disturbing fate was Jamal Khashoggi. It is an odd and cruel world we live in where corruption, censorship and murder are not punished but writing and speaking on corruption, censorship and murder prompt state machinery into arresting, attacking and killing those who write and speak. That is the power of the pen and the human voice: weapons indeed far more powerful than any guns or bombs The grim reality of the situation is that any single attack on a journalist in any part of the world that goes unpunished serves as an example of impunity for such attacks, thereby providing the necessary encouragement for ruling elite in other parts of the world to similarly act against voices critical of injustice. What Khashoggi’s brutal murder has done is send out a message to dissidents all over the world that even though they may not be located within the territory of the oppressive regime they criticize, physical distance is no longer a measure of safety or protection. This is an incredibly disturbing development and should move every union for the protection and safety of journalists, and every world government. What is equally concerning though is that the Khashoggi incident was not the first instance of Saudi Arabia acting in violation of international law, against dissidents, on foreign soil. It is worth recalling the disappearance of Naser al-Sa’id in 1979 from Beirut and the abduction of Prince Sultan bin Turki in 2003 from Geneva.These are just two illustrations in the long list of those targeted by Saudi Arabia outside its own territory. The reason Saudi Arabia went through with the murder-mutilation of Khashoggi was because they knew they could evade liability for their actions, as they have done in the past. It is this culture of impunity that not only makes it possible for oppressive regimes to silence critical voices but actually encourages them to do so. But who will hold these murderous regimes responsible? The guardians of liberty and democracy are too busy selling weapons to brutal regimes and working overtime to silence voices critical of their own policies.The self-appointed guardian of freedom and justice, the US, remains determined to silence not only Julian Assange but also any journalist that poses a critical question to President Trump. It should then come as no surprise that the Trump administration has been reluctant to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for its barbaric and gruesome murder and mutilation of Khashoggi. Spain, France, and the UK casually proceed in supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, which continues to bomb the life out of Yemen to a point where these countries are now collectively responsible for causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis but none of these countries feel the slightest bit of shame in ignoring the Khashoggi murder Western values of justice and freedom clearly only matter to a handful of countries these days (Germany being one of the few rays of hope). Meanwhile, Spain, France, and the UK casually proceed in supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, which continues to bomb the life out of Yemen to a point where these countries are now collectively responsible for causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis but none of these countries feel the slightest bit of shame in ignoring the Khashoggi murder. It is an odd and cruel world we live in where corruption, censorship and murder are not punished but writing and speaking on corruption, censorship and murder prompt state machinery into arresting, attacking and killing those who write and speak. That is the power of the pen and the human voice: weapons indeed far more powerful than any guns or bombs. Similarly, in Pakistan, murdered journalists’ families have never received justice. Equally troubling is the backdoor censorship of all mainstream media today despite the fact that Pakistan ostensibly is a democracy. This raises the question of what our collective response is to the harassment, intimidation and abduction of journalist and dissidents within our own country. It is a question that requires our immediate attention taking into consideration the fact that our institutions, unlike those of the US, are not independent or strong enough to challenge excesses of authority. In the US, federal judge Timothy Kelly, although appointed by Trump, directed that the White House reinstate CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House pass. Moreover, most mainstream media outlets stood in solidarity with Acosta in the face of this abuse of power. In Pakistan, this is unimaginable in the present context: that the media would stand together on an issue of principle. Moreover, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court has recently, for the hundredth time, overstepped his bounds: this time, using his bench to insult a veteran journalist, Hussain Naqi. So could we really expect any suomotu on that front against blatant media censorship? Instead, what we can expect, currently, is anyone critical of those exceeding their authority (be it the Chief of Army Staff or the Chief Justice) being abducted, harassed, intimidated, threatened or held in contempt of court. This should not just worry us: it should enrage us. This is a dangerous path to tread down and our civil liberties and right to question have already been taken away from us. How much more are we willing to sacrifice, and to what end? The limitations on our collective freedom of opinion and expression are paving the way for further evasions of calls for accountability and transparency. The writer is a lawyer Published in Daily Times, November 29th 2018.