The organisers of the Asma Jahangir Conference 2021 condemned the alleged “muzzling” of former Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s speech on Sunday, reports Dawn.

Soon after Sharif’s video link address began, internet services at the venue [Avari Hotel Lahore] were reportedly suspended.

“Lines kaat dee gai hain [lines were cut],” the organisers claimed while pointing out the government’s role in muzzling the speech of Nawaz.

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Munizae Jahangir, Asma’s daughter, confirmed that broadband internet services and mobile internet had been suspended soon after Nawaz began speaking.

The official statement released by the organisers said: “The organisers of the Asma Jahangir Conference regret the state’s highhandedness after it blocked the three-time elected former PM’s speech at the AJCONF2021 closing ceremony on Nov 21, 2021.”

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“The organisers of Asma Jahangir Conference 2021, which include the Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan Bar Council, and the AGHS, strongly condemn this act and consider it an onslaught on the freedom of expression,” they added.

After the video call was cut off, the organisers arranged for a telephonic address by Nawaz.

The President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Ahsan Bhoon appeared in Geo News programme ‘Naya Pakistan with Shahzad Iqbal’ and said that there was no need to tell judges [present at the conference] about Sharif’s closing ceremony speech.

While replying to the question if judges know about the former PM’s address and did they have any objection over it, Bhoon said, “Why would there be any objection? Neither were they [judges] co-hosting nor did they have to converse with him.”

However, government officials reacted to Nawaz speaking at the conference.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said he had been invited to the event, but he had been informed that “the conference will be closed with the speech of an absconding convict; this is obviously tantamount to ridiculing the country and the Constitution, which is why I declined to participate in the conference.”

Energy Minister Hammad Azhar tweeted: “Think positive; Perhaps the idea was to focus on [the] human rights of absconders..”

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, meanwhile, said, “Having an absconder and convict speak at a conference where the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and senior judges of the superior judiciary and members of Bar have spoken creates serious doubts on [the] impartiality of organisers but also makes it clear that honourable judges should remain clear of such politicised gatherings.”