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THE MAYOR OF London has been condemned after Transport for London (TfL) banned a taxi advert which highlighted alleged war crimes and human rights abuses in Pakistan’s south west region of Balochistan.

The #Free Balochistan adverts were approved but then removed by TfL after the Pakistan government summoned the British high commissioner in Islamabad to explain why the licensing authority had allowed a message that: “Directly attacks Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”.

Peter-TatchellHuman rights activist Peter Tatchell helped to organise the campaign and said the TfL ban was an attack on freedom of expression and said:

Transport for London was wrong to bow to demands by the Pakistan government to block these human rights adverts. Pakistan is seeking to impose in Britain the same censorship about Balochistan that it imposes inside Pakistan. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that the adverts are legitimate and acceptable, so why is Transport for London still censoring them?

Balochistan, which borders Iran and Pakistan, has suffered Islamist militancy and sectarian violence, but a spokesman for the ASA said: “The ASA Council did not consider that the ‘ Free Balochistan’ adverts on taxis made a specific claim that threatened the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Pakistan.

“The ASA’s role is assess what appears in an advert itself, not to make broader judgements about the intent or political cause. As such, without making a judgement on the legitimacy of the cause being advertised, we considered the advert was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence and did not take further action.”

TfL’s advertising policy states that: “Adverts that defend the right to life, liberty and security will not normally be banned, even if they are controversial and sensitive.”

TfL allowed taxi adverts earlier this year which made reference to alleged human rights abuses in Qatar, and when asked about this discrepancy, a spokesman said the licensing authority had, “nothing to add”.

World-Baloch-OrganisationBhawal Mengal, a human rights activist from the World Baloch Organisation and taxi advert campaign co-ordinator, said TfL’s actions were “unfair” and added:

Sadiq Khan was quick to act on Pakistan’s orders in getting TfL to remove the ads, without realising that if the ads were in fact a major violation of its guidelines, how did they make it on to the cabs and buses in the first place.

“I would simply ask them to reconsider the adverts, not give in to Pakistan’s bullying tactics and rather be true to their values and to the values that Britain believes in and stands for.”

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PHC Magazine

PHC Magazine