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US criticises Pak for crackdown on MQM leaders

Washington : A day after Pakistan charged MQM chief Altaf Hussain with treason for his inflammatory speech, the US has said in a democracy, critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced.

“I would just say in a democratic society, critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced. We believe that democracies become stronger by allowing free expression from diverse voices within society and we would certainly emphasise that any expression must be peaceful,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said yesterday.

Responding to a question on arrest of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) leaders, he said the US is always concerned when members of a political party are detained or arrested.

“We obviously uphold the importance and believe in the importance of public assembly, freedom of speech, as long as it’s peaceful. We would emphasise that any kind of protest, any kind of demonstrations would need to be conducted peacefully. So I think we’re still assessing, gathering information about what took place. And we’ll reserve further comment until that time,” Toner said.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain was yesterday charged with treason for his inflammatory speech that incited party workers to attack media outlets here. He was accused of raising anti- Pakistan slogans at a protest rally that turned violent.

The MQM remains the single largest party in Karachi for decades now and have dominated the political landscape for years sweeping provincial and national elections but since the clean-up operation began on the orders of the centre, the party has come under intense pressure.

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