ISLAMABAD: Amidst efforts to shutdown the Geo TV, the Brussels-based European Union Trade Commission has warned that it was monitoring Pakistan’s situation, and the country’s GSP Plus status could be withdrawn in case of serious restrictions on the freedom of speech.
John Clancy, the EU Trade spokesman, was officially responding to a query regarding a sustained campaign against Pakistanis’ largest TV channel Geo after an assassination bid on the channel’s most famous anchor Hamid Mir last month.
Mir was shot six times by unknown assailants in the port city of Karachi on April 19.
Under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences scheme, Pakistan is allowed duty-free exports to the EU which has resulted in an annual increase in revenue of around Rs78bn. Clancy said Pakistan was granted the GSP+ preferences because it complies with the EU criteria of ratification.
Nevertheless, this compliance is continuously monitored by the EU and, in case it is established that restrictions on freedom of speech constitute a serious violation of those conventions, the GSP+ could be removed by the EU as a result of an investigation, Clancy said in an email from Belgium’s capital.
The EU is Pakistan’s single largest trade partner. The spokesman further added that apart from GSP, respect for the freedom of speech is also a key element of powerful regional bloc’s agenda.
GSP is primarily a trade tool; the respect of human rights is relevant not only in the GSP context but is also a key element in the broader political agenda of the EU-Pakistan relations, Clancy added.
Under the GSP+ scheme, Pakistan is bound to uphold the freedom of expression as it has signed a binding undertaking with the EU to effectively implement 27 core international conventions.
One of these conventions is International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which calls for complete freedom of expression in the country.
There is a strict and effective mechanism devised by the EU to monitor the implementation of these conventions. In 2010, the EU revoked Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status over its human rights record.
Earlier this month, the EU had expressed concerns over attack on journalists in Pakistan, including serious attempts on lives of Hamid Mir and Raza Rumi.
Michael Mann, a spokesperson for the High Representative/ European External Action Service, had informed that the matter would be taken up during the EU’s 2014 human rights dialogue with Pakistan.
Although, the biggest threat to Pakistani journalists is armed groups, there are also allegations of abuses committed by the military against journalists who report critically on their actions, Mann said.