The Interior Ministry’s announcement that artistes, actors and students going on scholarships abroad would require no-objection certificates (NOCs) before leaving the country, particularly for India, has become quite controversial. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the “decision has been taken in the interest of Pakistan’s security and to safeguard its prestige”. Many artistes, human rights groups and writers have come out and spoken against this move publicly. Madeeha Gauhar, who heads the Ajoka Theatre, said that they were “discussing the issue with senior lawyers of the Supreme Court” and such a move is reminiscent of General Ziaul Haq’s era when the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens were violated. There were rumours that journalists would also require NOCs, but the Interior Ministry has denied these reports.Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President, Asma Jahangir, called it a foolish decision and demanded that it should be withdrawn immediately. Ms Jahangir said that all citizens have the right of free movement and this should not be denied to anyone. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also condemned this move.There are speculations that as far as the artistes and actors are concerned, this decision might have been taken after the recent fiasco in India where Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained and later penalised for trying to smuggle out a large sum of money. Others think that Veena Malik’s debut in an Indian reality TV programme, Bigg Boss, created a controversy and could have been another reason for this move.
Whatever the ‘motive’ may be behind the NOC decision, it is not just surprising but appalling. As if the visa process is not tough enough, now many citizens would have to obtain an NOC from the government before going abroad. With Pakistan’s reputation already in the doldrums, it is quite difficult to get a foreign visa for a Pakistani. Obtaining an NOC as well is not going to make things easier either, what with our inefficient and overbearing bureaucracy.The government must review this decision because it is against the fundamental rights guaranteed in our constitution. Our artistes, actors and students are not answerable to the state for their foreign trips. It is not just about the bureaucracy and red-tapism but about our personal freedoms. It is a shame that a democratically elected civilian government has made such a move. We expected better from them – Dailytimes