Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) called today on the federal government and Punjab provincial authorities to publicly explain why they had banned a new daily paper, the Islamabad Times, before it could bring out its first issue. It demanded the release of its printer, his son and two employees who were arrested.
It said it suspected it was a new move against the editor Masood Malik (photo) who had angered President Pervez Musharraf three years ago.
Plainclothes officials went on 31 August to the printing works in Rawalpindi where the Urdu-language paper was being put together for its launch on 6 September and ordered work on it to stop. When printer Malik Abdul Aziz asked why, the officials left and returned with police who arrested the four, closed the works and seized equipment.
Editor Masood Malik told Reporters Without Borders he had obtained all necessary official permission to start the paper. Officials refused to comment on the ban. Malik said he suspected the federal government was involved.
In its 2002 Annual report, Reporters without Borders wrote:
"On 20 July 2001, Masood Malik, chief reporter of the right-wing Urdu daily Nawa-i-Waqt, was sanctioned by the newspaper’s editors only a few hours after asking the Pakistani President a question during a press conference.
The journalist asked General Musharraf, who had just returned from the Indo-Pakistani summit in Agra (India), if it wouldn’t have been easier for a democratically elected head of state to obtain an agreement with the Indian president. General Musharraf replied by asking the journalist if "he was joking".
A few hours later, Masood Malik learned that he had been removed from the newspaper’s investigation desk. According to the private newspaper Dawn, this sanction could be due to pressure from the authorities, especially the Press Information Department in charge of regulating the Pakistani press. The Department denied putting pressure on the editors of Nawa-i-Waqt."