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Pakistan 4 May 2005

Police mark World Press Freedom Day by arresting and beating journalists

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders condemned police brutality as fresh evidence of repeated crackdowns against the press as police in Islamabad and Lahore marked World Press Freedom Day on 3 May with arrests and beatings of journalists.

Security forces wielding clubs broke up a rally of around 50 journalists who had gathered peacefully to mark the day in front of the parliament building in the capital Islamabad. The police moved in almost immediately a procession was formed.

(JPEG) The same day, security forces in the eastern city of Lahore charged some 200 journalists, leaving nine injured, as they gathered in preparation to rally at the Punjab governor’s residence in support of better working conditions.

Reporters Without Borders said the violent incidents left a bitter sense of déjà-vu, since it had spoken out against similar incidents in Lahore and Karachi barely two weeks ago.

"In the face of such behaviour by the security forces, the Islamabad government cannot seriously claim to permit more press freedom than any of its predecessors," it said. "This claim can only be given any credence if it corresponds to the reality. The Pakistani authorities must put an end to abuses against journalists and only then can they really convince anyone of their willingness to promote press freedom."

Chairman of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pervez Shaukat, was among around 30 journalists arrested by police in Islamabad.

He described how they were bundled inside two buses and taken first to a local police post and then to Sahala Prison in the city suburbs. Police snatched equipment from them and confiscated their mobile phones. They were released after three hours.

Journalists sent to cover the National Assembly sitting decided to stage a walkout from the day’s session in protest at the treatment of their detained colleagues. Opposition members of parliament joined in their protest against repressive police methods taken against a peaceful demonstration.

Information and Broadcasting Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said that it was an unfortunate incident.

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