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Pakistan 9 September 2004

Journalist imprisoned over articles about conflict between peasants and military in Punjab

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has called for the release of Sarwar Mujahid of the conservative Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt held since 31 July 2004 by the authorities in Okara district of Punjab province.

Police, who had no arrest warrant, arrested him at his home, apparently in connection with articles he wrote about a conflict between peasant farmers and para-militaries.

"The extended detention of this journalist casts serious doubt on the capacity of the Pakistani media to freely cover the activities of the military and the para-militaries," said Reporters Without Borders in a letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab, Pervez Elahi.

The organisation also expressed concern about Mujahid’s state of health. He suffers from diabetes and was beaten during his arrest.

Mujahid is reportedly being held in Sahiwal prison in the province. His family has not been allowed to visit him. His daughter Aisha Sarwar condemned what she called "state terrorism". She also told Reporters Without Borders that she was worried that her father would not be able to get treatment for his diabetes.

Mujahid, 42, is being held under the Maintenance of Public Order Act. This law lays down that a person can be detained for three months if the government considers they represent "a threat to public order".

The family has referred the case to the Lahore High Court but the case did not come up in August because of a judicial recess. The court fixed 9 September as the date for the Punjab government to submit its comments on the case.

Mujahid is apparently being held in connection with articles he has written on the conflict between Pakistani par-militaries and peasant farmers, who for years have been cultivating land belonging to the army and are refusing to leave their farms.

Human Rights Watch in July 2004 condemned military repression in particular acts of torture against peasants in Okara district.

Mujahid was previously jailed for two months in 2003 for articles sympathetic to the peasant farmers. He was released on bail.

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