This great city of Karachi was the venue of the 2nd Shanaakht Festival held at the Arts Council, Karachi. Over 1000 exhibits of Art were received and featured at this Festival and it was open to the general public. On the first day [i.e. 8-4-2009] of the 2nd Shanaakht Festival, a small group of individuals entered the Arts Council, Karachi, disrupted the Festival and vandalized the exhibition at the Festival. The disruption and vandalism of the Exhibition was done on the ground that one of the exhibits was objectionable and disrespectful of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. It is important to note that these people never approached the organizers to launch a complaint or for the removal of the exhibit that they found objectionable. It is also been reported in the ‘The News’ on 10-4-2009 that a F.I.R. has also been initiated against the organizer of the Festival and artist of the objectionable exhibit.
Without defending the said exhibit of art and without deliberating on the issue as to whether the exhibit of art was objectionable and disrespectful or not, we respect the point of view of all persons who found the exhibit objectionable and disrespectable and we sympathize with them for their emotional distress. We also respect the right of all persons to peacefully protest and criticize any exhibit or piece of art which they deem objectionable. What we are concerned and disturbed about are the actions of some people, whatsoever the grounds maybe, who disrupted and vandalized the exhibition and endangered the life and security of the citizens present. What we are further perturbed about is the use of the criminal law against persons who have a different point of view.
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party have waged a historic struggle for tolerance and freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of artistic expression, in this country. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto gave her life for these principles. Surely, it is our expectation from a democratic government of the PPP that the freedom of artistic expression will be upheld and protected by this government and any act of vandalism or suppression of this freedom will not be condoned by this government.
We, as concerned citizens, will resist any attempt to suppress our freedom of expression by acts of vandalism and violence and by malafide initiation of criminal cases to suppress the voices of dissent.
We demand that the government should hold an inquiry into the acts of vandalism and violence on April 8th, 2009, at the arts council, Karachi, and we urge the government to protect the life and liberty of the persons against whom a malafide criminal case has been initiated.