The war in Afghanistan allowed the Pakistani press to prove its maturity and pluralism. The government of President Pervez Musharraf, which sided with the Americans in the war against terrorism, allowed the foreign press, with the exception of reporters from neighbouring India, to freely cover the conflict. But the repeated use of the country’s law on blasphemy against journalists is a dangerous trend for press freedom in Pakistan.
"Among the enduring forces of our country is the free and courageous press," said Najam Sethi, editor of Friday Times, one of Pakistan’s most liberal publications, in the middle of the Afghan crisis. The US military operation "Enduring Freedom", which placed this country at the heart of a new international crisis, showed that the Pakistani press could maintain its independence and its difference. English-language newspapers supported the decisions of President Pervez Musharraf in his call to rally around the antiterrorist coalition, yet managed to retain their critical tone. However, the Urdu-language press constantly denounced "crimes" committed by Americans against the Afghan people. Some publications with links to fundamentalist parties openly supported the Taliban regime, and published pictures of Osama bin Laden on their front pages. In spite of tensions in the country, especially demonstrations in support of the Taliban, the regime of General Pervez Musharraf, who became the country’s president in June 2001, did not attempt to muzzle the press. Thousands of foreign journalists from dozens of countries had no difficulty entering Pakistan after September 11 to cover the Afghan crisis. Only Indian reporters, or those of Indian origin, were refused press visas, and two of them were expelled from the country. But the government, citing security reasons, kept the foreign press out of sensitive parts of the country, especially the tribal zones along the Afghan border. At least seven reporters were arrested for not respecting instructions from authorities.
The Pakistani government, and some of the country’s media, expressed their discontent several times concerning foreign press coverage of the situation in the country. One Pakistani reporter said that most foreign journalists had never visited Pakistan and had no awareness of the context of the situation. "Fundamentalist demonstrations are on the front pages of all the newspapers, and make the leads of all the television news programs in the world. But they only represent a few tens of thousands of people in a country of 140 million inhabitants. How can you explain this?" said one journalist based in Islamabad. Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad have become a "Journalistan" where every excess is seen: the prices of Pakistani and Afghan "fixers", as well as those for hotel rooms, skyrocketed.
But new threats to press freedom in Pakistan appeared in 2001. Two newspapers were shut down, and several journalists were arrested for writing articles considered "blasphemous" by fundamentalist groups or by the authorities. The crime of blasphemy, punished by the death penalty, has become a sword of Damocles hanging above the media. One must hope that the policies of the new government, which is attempting to limit the influence of fundamentalist movements in the country, protect the press from the abusive use of this blasphemy law. As of 1 January 2002, two journalists are still in jail for this "crime".
Finally, in some regions of the country, especially the tribal zones, the safety and freedom of journalists are limited. Local authorities and traditional leaders threaten correspondents who denounce their abuses, often committed in the name of emergency laws.
One journalist killed
One journalist was killed in 2001. But, as of 1 January 2002, it is impossible to say whether this murder was related to the victim’s activities as a reporter.
On 1 September 2001, Assadullah, journalist with the Kashmir Press International press agency, was killed in a street in Karachi (south of the country). The 30-year-old journalist, father of a six-month old daughter, was a former student leader. Neither the police nor the press agency had any ideas on the identity or motivation of the murderers.
New information on media employees killed before 2001
On 5 March 2001, Karachi police announced the arrest of Uzair Qureshi, suspected of being involved in the organisation of an attack on the offices of the Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt in Karachi (south of the country). This attack, in November 2000, cost the lives of three newspaper employees. Uzair Qureshi allegedly confessed. According to Pakistani police, this suicide bombing, committed by a Bengali woman, was done under the orders of Indian secret police. The two countries accuse each other of fomenting terrorism in their respective countries.
Eighteen journalists jailed
As of 1 January 2002, at least three journalists are in jail.
Ayub Khoso, columnist with the local daily Alakh (no longer published), has been jailed since 18 December 1999 in the central prison of Hyderabad (Sindh province, south of the country) for violating the Blasphemy Law. He was sentenced to seventeen years in jail according to sections 295 (A) and 34 of the Pakistani Penal Code and section 8 (B and D) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.
On the evening of 29 January 2001 police arrested Aftab Ahmed, news editor, Imtiaz Hussain, chief reporter, Qazi Sarwar, columnist, Waijul Hasan, computer operator, and Munwarul Hasan, in charge of the editorial pages, of the English daily Frontier Post in Peshawar. Policemen also sealed the newspaper’s offices. This decision taken by the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) government followed the publication, on the same day, of a letter to the editor entitled "Why do Muslims hate Jews?" The authorities considered this an insulting letter to Muhammad, the Holy Prophet, because it criticised the way the Prophet treated Jews. The journalists were arrested under Section 295-C of the Blasphemy Law that carries the death penalty. Mehmood Afridi and Javed Nazir, respectively managing editor and co-editor, were also wanted by the police. According to Mehmood Afridi, two dishonest staff members published this letter with the intention of harming the newspaper. The manager claimed to be the "victim of a conspiracy" and published in the online version of the daily, dated 29 January, a letter of apology to the "Muslim people". The chief of police confirmed that the newspaper was closed until further orders. The authorities refused to disclose the whereabouts of the five staff members detained. President Musharraf declared that his government would "no longer tolerate the publication of such scandalous information." On 30 January, fundamentalist demonstrators attacked the newspaper’s offices and burnt its printing press, while other demonstrators threw rocks at the Peshawar Press Club. They marched in the streets chanting, "Arrest journalists and execute them." Police officers, stationed at a distance from this demonstration, did not intervene. On 31 January, the NWFP government disconnected the Frontier Post web site (frontierpost.com.pk). The following day, Peshawar religious leaders demanded that authorities identify those guilty of blasphemy within one month. Demonstrators again marched in the streets and burnt two cinemas. On 2 February, the NWFP government named Qaim Jan Khan, a judge with the High Court of Peshawar, to investigate these accusations of blasphemy. The All Pakistan Newspapers’ Society (APNS) sent a mission to Peshawar to negotiate the release of the journalists and the reopening of the newspaper. On 14 February, Imtiaz Hussain, Qazi Sarwar and Wajiul Hasan were released after being found "innocent" by a preliminary police investigation. The three journalists paid bail of around 2,000 euros after spending seventeen days in jail. On 9 March, the judge of the High Court of Peshawar, in charge of the investigation into the publication of the blasphemous letter, concluded in his report that it was the result of "sheer negligence". The judge revealed grave mismanagement in the newspaper. He also said that four employees were responsible for the publication of the letter: the managing editor, the news editor, the sub-editor and the typesetter. On 13 March, Aftab Ahmed was released on bail after fifty-four days in jail. It was not until 20 June that the Frontier Post was again authorised to publish. But as of 1 January 2002, Munwarul Hasan was still in jail because no one offered to put up his bail. This Frontier Post employee, a former heroin addict who had been committed to a psychiatric hospital several times, was distraught by his extended detention. In October 2001, the NWFP Interior Minister refused to allow a Reporters without Borders mission to meet Munwarul Hasan in prison. In addition, the charges against the newspaper still stand, but the investigation is blocked.
On 4 June, police arrested Shahid Chaudry, managing editor, Shakil Tahirkheli, news editor, and Raja Muhammad Haroon, sub-editor of the regional daily Mohasib, published in Abbottabad (fifty kilometres north of Islamabad). They were detained according to articles 295 A and C of the Blasphemy Law. Police, led by officer Mumtaz Zareen Khan, raided the homes of the newspaper’s employees and threatened them with arrest. The three journalists were detained for two days in the Cant police station and then transferred to jail in Abbottabad. These arrests were linked to a complaint for blasphemy filed by Waqar Jadoon, leader of the religious group Khatme Nabooat Youth Force. The suspects faced the death penalty. On 5 June, authorities of the Pakistan’s North West-Frontier Province banned, sealed and took away the publishing licence of Mohasib. This decision followed the publication, on 29 May, of an article entitled "The Beard and Islam." In this text, a famous intellectual and poet, Jamil Yousaf, criticised the position of Pakistani fundamentalists who affirm that a man without a beard could not be a good Muslim. He wrote, "I demand that religious leaders find me a single verse in the Koran where it says that growing a beard is a sunnat. (...) The Prophet spoke about almost everything that a Muslim must do to conform, but he never talked about beards. (...) If Muslim preachers say that we must grow beards because the Prophet did this, then their words and actions should be complementary. (...) The Mullahs should not travel in Pajero jeeps because the Prophet never used this vehicle." Since its publication, some fundamentalists in the town of Abbottabad publicly threatened the newspaper. On 8 June, police arrested Muhammad Zaman Khan, managing editor of Mohasib, even though he had been granted with bail until 13 June. On the same day, during a demonstration organised in Abbottabad, religious leaders called for the death penalty for those responsible for blasphemy. On 15 June, some fundamentalist imams of Abbottabad threatened journalists Sardar Abrar Rashid, Mir Muhammed Awan and Syed Kosar Naqvi, leaders of local press associations, with the "worst consequences", because of their support for Mohasib’s staff. Sardar Abrar Rashid told RSF that he feared for his life and his family. "Our lives remain at stake at the hands of religious fanatics," said the journalist. On 14 June, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that the article in Mohasib did not fall under the Blasphemy Law. While recognising that its content could "injure religious sentiments", the government in Islamabad was opposed to the legal measures taken by the local authorities against the newspaper’s staff. According to a journalist in Abbotabad, this demonstrated that "this accusation of blasphemy was a good opportunity to shut down a critical newspaper." On 19 June, several sources confirmed that the four journalists had been beaten and detained in very harsh conditions the week after their arrest. Fundamentalist activists harassed their families, and their wives could not leave their homes for fear of being attacked by militants. On the evening of 27 June, Muhammad Zaman Khan suffered a heart attack in his Abbotabad jail cell. Zaman Khan had been complaining of chest pains for several days, but prison authorities refused to provide him with appropriate treatment. He was transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit of the District Headquarters’ Hospital in serious condition, under tight police security. Despite the journalist’s problems with high blood pressure, doctors at Hospital said this heart attack was due to stress and a lack of proper treatment in jail. On 18 July, Muhammed Shahid, Muhammed Haroon, Shakil Ahmed Tahirkheli and Muhammed Zaman Khan were freed from the Abbottabad jail, after 45 days, after a court accepted their request for bail. Many of their colleagues received them at the town’s Press Club. Yet, as of 1 January 2002, the authorities have still not dropped the charges against them, and Mohasib is still closed.
On 27 June, special judge Karim Raza Shamsi of the Lahore court (Punjab province) sentenced Rehmat Shah Afridi, editor-in-chief of the English-language Frontier Post and Urdu-language Maidan, to a double death sentence for drug smuggling. The court also fined him 2,000,000 rupees. His co-defendants, Abdul Malik and Missal Khan, were each sentenced to ten years in jail. Police took major security measures for the announcement of this verdict, which provoked the anger of the Afridi family. Rehmat Shah Afridi had been jailed since 2 April 1999. He was arrested by members of the Anti-Narcotics Force in Lahore for the possession, according to the police, of 20 kilos of marijuana. The journalist was tortured in the first weeks of his detention, and has consistently pleaded not guilty; he claimed he was a victim of vengeance by the anti-drug agency, which is funded by the United States government. A few weeks before his arrest, his newspaper had published an article accusing Anti-Narcotics Force officers of involvement in drug smuggling. In 2000 and 2001, his trial was delayed several times, and the Anti-Narcotics Force was unable to provide evidence of his direct involvement in the drug case. Irregularities and contradictions were also discovered during the investigation and the trial. Some Anti-Narcotics Force agents recognised that the first report was false. Moreover, defence lawyers claimed that the drugs that supposedly belonged to Afridi had never been analysed by the Anti-Narcotics Force, although an officer of the agency said the contrary during the hearings. Lawyers also pointed out that, in similar drug smuggling cases, the death penalty had never handed down. Judge Karim Raza Shamsi replied that, "the defendant is an educated man, and is more responsible than an illiterate." The president of the Pakistani Jurists Association told RSF the verdict was "biased" and a "conspiracy against the newspaper". The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the sentence. Rehmat Shah Afridi appealed to the High Court of Justice of Lahore, and the appeal is pending.
On 5 October, Olivier Ravanello and Jérôme Marcantetti, reporter and cameraman with the French news channel LCI, Muhammad Iqbal Afridi, correspondent with the daily Al-Akhbar, Syed Karim, journalist with the national newspaper Khabrian, and Rifatullah Orakzai, reporter with the newspaper Khyber Mail based in Peshawar, were arrested by inhabitants of Tirah valley (a tribal zone of Khyber Agency, off-limits to foreign journalists). The French reporters and their Pakistani fixers were attempting to approach new Afghan refugee camps that had been set up by the Pakistanis in this border region. Tribal members handed them over to local authorities after accusing them of being "American spies". They were held in the building of the Khyber Agency political authority in Peshawar. Olivier Ravanello and Jérôme Marcantetti were released on 8 October, in part thanks to the intervention of the French embassy in Pakistan. The three Pakistani journalists were again questioned by the authorities who accused them of entering the valley illegally and even of "attempting to kidnap French reporters". Their families feared that they would be transferred to a detention centre of the police’s special department, where ill-treatment is frequent. The local authorities announced that they considered leaving their release or judgement up to a traditional assembly, the jirga. The journalists could also receive serious sentences for helping foreigners enter a tribal area. On 16 October, an RSF representative visited the three journalists in jail. "We are detained with criminals and we can go to the toilet only twice a day," one of the journalists said. The authorities had refused to allow their relatives to visit them for the first ten days after their arrest. They said that this detention, which they considered "illegal", could be revenge for their writings. "We were made to understand that we could be released if we promised not to write any articles critical of the administration," one of them said. But, on the afternoon of 18 October, the three tribal journalists were released after thirteen days in detention. The brother of one of them said, "First the political authority told us that they could only be released on bail. This meant that charges against them would be upheld. That was not acceptable to us. We refused, but the authorities gave in to national and international pressure and they released them unconditionally." One of the journalists, Iqbal Afridi, went on a hunger strike for 72 hours to protest against his long detention.
On 8 October, Aziz Zemouri, reporter with the French weekly Figaro Magazine, was arrested by tribal militia members in Ghulam Khan, in the North Waziristan tribal zone. He was handed over to authorities who transferred him to Peshawar, where he was detained and interrogated by the immigration department and Pakistani secret police. He was beaten when he refused to be chained. Aziz Zemouri was arrested by the tribal militia while attempting to cross the Afghan border in a bus. He had already tried to cross the border the previous day by negotiating with Taliban border guards. On 16 October, Pakistani authorities freed Aziz Zemouri after eight days of detention. The journalist arrived in the capital the same day, and in France a few days later.
On 19 November, Marc Messier, reporter with the French radio station Europe 1, was arrested together with his Afghan chauffeur in the Khyber Agency tribal zone. Local authorities accused him of entering this border zone without authorisation. Marc Messier wanted to verify a rumour that a group of Taliban had taken refuge in this border area. Messier was freed after being held for 36 hours, following an intervention by the French embassy. Marc Messier received no explanation. His chauffeur was held for four days by Khyber Agency authorities.
Five journalists arrested
On 31 January 2001, Kifayatullah, editor-in-chief of Maidan, the Urdu-language version of the Frontier Post, and five other employees of the newspaper were questioned for several hours by police. Five journalists with the Frontier Post had been arrested two days earlier for blasphemy.
On 12 May, journalist Abdul Wahid Bhutto was arrested by police in Deharki (Sindh province, south of the country) while covering a demonstration calling for the indictment of police officers suspected of murder. Police arrested him after roughing him up, taking his camera and hitting him with a rifle butt. Abdul Wahid Bhutto was released two hours later.
On the night of 9 November, Christina Lamb and Justin Sutcliffe, respectively journalist and photographer with the British weekly Sunday Telegraph, were arrested in their hotel in Quetta (west of the country) by seven officers of the Pakistani secret police (ISI). Their telephones were confiscated. Both reporters were questioned then transferred to Islamabad. On 10 November, Christina Lamb and Justin Sutcliffe were taken to the Islamabad Airport to be expelled. According to Pakistani newspapers, Christina Lamb pulled down her pants in the departure lounge to protest this decision. Security agents tied her to a wheelchair and placed her in a plane for London. The authorities accused the two reporters of "acting in a manner detrimental to Pakistan’s external affairs and national security." The Pakistani police said that Christina Lamb was "persona non grata" in Pakistan for attempting to reserve an airplane ticket on a Pakistani airline, in October, under the name "O. B. Laden". Even though she was forbidden to enter the country, she managed to return to Quetta. The Sunday Telegraph formally rejected this accusation, saying that the reporters were expelled after Christina Lamb investigated the involvement of some members of the ISI in providing arms to the Taliban. Christina Lamb, an experienced journalist and former correspondent with the Financial Times in Pakistan, had previously been arrested, questioned and threatened by ISI agents in 1990. At the time, she had implicated the country’s secret police in the delivery of arms to Afghan fighters.
On 10 November, Irfan Qureshi, Pakistani guide of the French journalist Michel Peyrard, was arrested at the Torkham (NWFP) border post after being released by the Taliban. He was held in Landi Kotal (west of Peshawar), in a building of the political authority of the Khyber Agency tribal zone. Qureshi was interrogated by Pakistani secret police (ISI) agents, and was allowed to return to Peshawar the following day.
Fourteen journalists attacked
On 31 January 2001, young Islamists demonstrated in the streets of Peshawar. While covering demonstrations by fundamentalists, called by Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamist party), Haider Shah, with the newspaper The News, and Shahzad, with the Urdu-language newspaper Al-Akhbar, were hit with sticks. The demonstrators attacked a cinema in the centre of Peshawar after burning the printing presses of the Frontier Post and vandalising several buildings including the Press Club, the previous day.
On 28 March, Shakil Shaikh, chief reporter for The News, was kidnapped, beaten and threatened with death by five armed men in Islamabad. The attackers, in a jeep without license plates, kidnapped the journalist near Islamabad’s commercial centre. They covered his face, bundled him into the car and started to beat him with the butt of an AK-47 rifle. He was beaten and under constant threat of death for more than three hours. One of his attackers told him, "You write too much. Now you will not write anymore." They also threatened to kidnap his wife, children and parents. The reporter was finally released in a remote village, then taken to an Islamabad hospital. The journalist filed a complaint with police in Islamabad. According to his colleagues, Shakil Shaikh had recently published the results of an investigation on the involvement of soldiers in charge of transportation in a smuggling ring. On the same day, officials of the Ministry of Information visited the journalist in the hospital and promised to investigate the attack.
On 14 May, Hadi Sanghi, photographer with the Sindhi-language daily Kawish, was hit by police in Larkana, in Sindh province (south of the country). While covering the release from jail of Qadir Magsi, the leader of the nationalist Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party, and eighteen other activists, Hadi Sanghi was taking pictures of a prisoner being beaten by guards. An officer attempted to confiscate his camera. The crowd that had come to celebrate the release of the activists protected Hadi Sanghi, but police used clubs and tear gas to break up the crowd. After police caught Sanghi, they took his camera and motorcycle, and beat him. Prison authorities filed charges against Hadi Sanghi and 28 other people for "attacking the prison".
On 26 July, Amjad Ali Shah, correspondent with the Urdu-language daily Mashriq in Peshawar, in Dir district (north-west of the country), was attacked by members of a local organised crime group. The criminals, who came to question him about articles he wrote about illegal logging in this district, kicked him in the head, seriously wounding him. Nearby police officers did not intervene to protect Amjad Ali Shah. The journalist was taken to the hospital. After a group of journalists from Dir interceded, four suspects, Muhammad Zaman, Riyat Khan, Afsar Khan and Kamil Khan, were arrested for "attempted murder". Amjad Ali Shah had already received threats from organized crime groups telling him to "no longer write" about their activity.
On 5 August, Shoaib Bhutta, journalist with the weekly Capital, was severely beaten by armed individuals in a street of Faisalabad (centre of the country). The attackers were wearing security guard uniforms. Shoaib Bhutta suffered a broken leg. He was one of the rare journalists who had ignored the governmental directive inciting journalists to actively cover the trial of Asif Ali Zardari, husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
On 29 August, two journalists of the tribal zone, Sahibzada Bahuddin, correspondent with the Urdu-language daily Khabrian published in Islamabad, and Anwarullah Khan, correspondent with the English-language daily Dawn, were beaten as they were leaving their offices in Bajaur Agency (tribal zone). They were threatened with new reprisals if they continued to write articles favourable to administrative reforms concerning the status of tribal zones. They had already been threatened by maliks (tribal chiefs) who refused that the emergency laws in the area ("black laws") be ended, and had received anonymous calls telling them to be "prepared for all possibilities" if they did not obey the demands of the tribal chiefs.
On 9 October, Patrick Aventurier and Vincent Laforêt, respectively photo reporters with the Gamma agency and the US daily New York Times, were beaten by Pakistani policemen near a madrassa in Quetta (west of the country). The two photographers were following an ambulance carrying the body of a child killed during a demonstration against the US air strikes in Afghanistan. The child’s family and fundamentalists had asked the police to give back the body of this child, murdered the same day in a village near Quetta. As the convoy was arriving at a religious school, policemen in grey uniforms attacked the two photographers and beat them with sticks and the butts of their Kalashnikovs. According to Patrick Aventurier, "the policemen did not accept that we were able to shoot pictures of the child’s body with a bullet wound in his head. I don’t what they had to reproach themselves for, but they brutally attacked us while the fundamentalists were not aggressive." The same day, the two photographers and the French consul in Quetta filed a complaint with the police superintendent of the town. As of 1 January 2002, this complaint has still not been investigated. Since late September, Pakistani authorities prohibited foreign journalists from leaving the hotel where they were staying in Quetta. Because of the violent demonstrations in and around the town, police and soldiers in this town, near the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar, blocked the more than 200 reporters present to cover the conflict in Afghanistan. During a recent demonstration, Taliban supporters threw stones at this hotel and tried to burn it. In spite of these risks, some foreign journalists signed a petition asking the authorities to let them work freely in the town. They were willing to sign a release discharging the Pakistani police of their security.
On 8 December, Robert Fisk, reporter with English newspaper The Independent based in Beirut (Lebanon), was attacked and severely beaten by Afghan refugees on the road between Quetta and the border town of Chaman. The 55-year-old journalist was attempting to return to Chaman when his vehicle broke down near Kila Abdullah, a village of Afghan refugees. While he was getting out of the vehicle to push it off the road, he was attacked and stoned by a group of about 40 refugees, who unsuccessfully attempted to take his bag. Fisk was wounded in the head, face and hands. Covered with blood, his glasses lost, he was saved at the last minute by a religious leader who forced the crowd to back away and took him to a police vehicle. The next day, Robert Fisk, a specialist of Arab countries, wrote in The Independent that he would "have done the same if he was an Afghan refugee" and that he "understood".
On 15 December, three journalists with a German television channel were attacked by members of a Pashtun tribe throwing stones in Dir province (north of the country). Police officers had to fire shots in the air to save the three reporters accused of supporting the Americans against the Taliban.
Three journalists threatened
On 5 August 2001, Hayatullah Khan told RSF that he had received new threats and was obliged to stay in hiding. He is the correspondent of the Urdu-language daily Ausaf in Mir Ali, the divisional headquarters of North Waziristan Agency (one of the tribal zones in the north-west of the country). Local authorities had been harassing the journalist since June. Threatened with arrest, Khan left Mir Ali. Chased by guards of Muhammad Mushtaq Jadoon, he had to flee the town of Bannu to find refuge in Peshawar. Hayatullah Khan told RSF: "I have been so harassed and intimidated that I have left my native town and am talking shelter in one place or another to escape the administration’s strong-arm tactics." The local authorities criticised the Ausaf correspondent for writing articles about the weakness of the North Waziristan administration and the growing influence of the Taliban. Under orders of Mushtaq Jadoon, men ransacked the journalist’s house several times and arrested one of his relatives to force the journalist to surrender. Moreover, local authorities filed several complaints, all ungrounded according to the journalist. On 30 July, members of the Tribal Union of Journalists demonstrated in Peshawar, demanding the removal of Political Agent Mushtaq Jadoon. Because of this pressure, the governor of Northern Waziristan dropped all charges against Hayatullah Khan. The governor of the NWFP was said to have intervened in favour of the journalist.
On 18 August, Hamid Mian Shaikh, correspondent with the daily Roznama in Hyderabad (south of the country), reported in the newspaper that police had seized a large cache of weapons near the offices of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, (MQM, party of Indian refugees fighting against Jamaat-e Islami). Several hours later, he received a telephone threat from Syed Afzal Ahmed Shah, a former MQM Member of Parliament for the province, who ordered him to come to his office to "pay" for publishing this article on the front page of the newspaper. The journalist received anonymous phone calls in the following days warning him of "reprisals". After several other journalists in Hyderabad intervened, MQM officials said they would no longer apply any pressure to Hamid Mian Shaikh.
On 4 October, Akhtar Hussain Jaffri, correspondent with the Daily Express Karachi (Urdu-language daily) in Khairpour (in the region of Sukkur, in the heart of Sindh province), was threatened by police while investigating a recent ban of bullhorns in public places and religious buildings. Jaffri protested to the superintendent of police who threatened to arrest him.
Pressure and obstruction
On 1 February 2001, police searched the Peshawar offices of the Urdu-language newspaper Jasarat, close to Jammat-e-Islami. The newspaper had just published excerpts of a letter considered "blasphemous", which led to the arrest of five journalists and the closing of the Frontier Post. The newspaper recognised publishing these excerpts to stir up Islamist demonstrations against the Frontier Post.
On 22 February, the cabinet of General Pervez Musharraf sent a circular to ministries and regional administrations forbidding government employees from passing on information from official documents to journalists or employees of other government departments. Violators cold face sanctions that included prison terms. The distribution of this circular, classified "Secret", followed a "leak" which called into question the independence of the courts. The press had passed on the recording of a conversation between a former Minister of Justice and a judge of the High Court in Lahore. In this conversation, the minister asked the judge to indict former Prime Minister in exile Benazir Bhutto.
In April, seven journalists from Hyderabad, Shakeel Ahmed Soomro of the newspaper Kewish, Ali Hassan Bhutto of the newspaper Koshish, Sikandar Bhutto of the Daily Mirror, Ramzan Pirzada of the newspaper Awami Aawaz, Lala Qadir of the newspaper Daily Sindhu, Habib Ullah of the newspaper Tameer-e-Sindh, and Shams Bhutto of the newspaper Riasat, were named as "suspects" by police in Deharki (Sindh province). The journalists and more than 100 other people were accused of inciting the inhabitants of a village to organise a demonstration, and to "rebel against the power of the state". The journalists were actually covering a demonstration of villagers against the local government. A week after they were named, the journalists were removed from the list of suspects following orders from the superintendent of police in the region.
On 20 July, 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.
On 27 July, the government renewed the publishing license of the weekly K2 published in Gilgit in Baltistan (north of the country). The newspaper’s licence had been suspended in October 2000 by a judge who said they were publishing "contestable" information and promoting "anti-Pakistani sentiment". In the editorial of the first
issue published after the nine-month ban, the managing editor thanked the national and international organisations that supported K2.
On 31 July, a fundamentalist group from the Waziristan tribal zone (north-west of the country) burned television sets to "clean society of non-Islamic influences". Three television sets and one VCR were burnt in public.
On 13 August, about 40 activists of a religious party set fire to the offices of the Ashfaq press agency in Sarai Naurang (Lakki Marwat district, NWFP), to protest against the publication, in an Islamabad newspaper, of an article critical to Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the fundamentalist party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). Demonstrators attacked the press agency and burned hundreds of copies of different Urdu-language newspapers: Khabrian, which had published the article, Kainat, Mashriq and Aaj. Finally, they roughed up and insulted the managing editor of the press agency.
On 14 August, the government amended the antiterrorist law by adding two radical religious organisations to it: Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Muhammad. One of the amendments calls for prison sentences of up to six months for the publication, printing or circulation of images or texts relative to people suspected of belonging to these terrorist organisations. The government of Punjab province (centre of the country) said that it would use this new legislation if the media published articles about these organisations.
On 1 September, an article on blasphemy to be published in the 3 September edition of the American weekly Newsweek was censored by the Press Information Department (PID) of the Information minister, who said that that "the article’s subject matter is objectionable and may spark violence". The PID added that, "the decision was made in the public interest" and "the magazine itself has not been banned". A letter was sent on 1 September to the Customs Department, instructing them to seize the copies of the magazine. The Press Information Department of Karachi (Sindh province, south of the country) had earlier ordered Liberty Books Private Limited, Newsweek’s distributor for Pakistan, to tear out the controversial article. This article related in detail the death sentence of Dr. Younus Sheikh, accused of blasphemy for teaching his students that the prophet Muhammad was not a Muslim until he was 40 years old.
Starting on 11 September, when the first foreign journalists arrived in Peshawar, Pakistani security forces restricted access to some areas, especially tribal zones and Afghan refugee camps. Groups of reporters who attempted to circumvent these rules were arrested and sent back to the centre
of Peshawar. On 18 September, Jon Ingemundsew, photographer with the Norwegian newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, one of his Norwegian colleagues, and photographer Ghafar Baig of Pakistani news agency Online were interrogated by members of the secret police, after being briefly arrested by Pakistani security forces while near Peshawar airport and a military base. According to Ghafar Baig, the agents wanted to know if the journalists had taken pictures or films of the military base. Shortly after this, a Japanese television team was arrested near the same base. The journalists were roughed up and sent back to their hotels. The same day, Pakistani soldiers prevented foreign journalists from going to the border town Torkham, located 54 kilometres west of Peshawar. According to a British reporter, the group was blocked about 10 kilometres from the border. The previous day, foreign reporters had been manhandled by Pakistani soldiers and prevented from talking to Afghan refugees. Journalists, who had Federal Information Ministry authorizations, were threatened by officers and taken back to their vehicles. On 18 September, the NWFP government announced that journalists would need official authorisation to enter the Afghan refugee camps along the border. But almost no reporters had received such authorisation. An Irish TV crew was briefly detained on 25 September after filming footage of a refugee camp near Peshawar. According to the Pakistani journalist who accompanied them, police only confiscated some pages of their notebooks. The same day, members of a crew with the American TV channel CNN, lead by Asian correspondent Mike Chinoy, were briefly interrogated by an officer of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. The American journalists were coming from the border region of Mohmand Agency. In addition, a French TV crew from TF1 was refused access to Darra Adamkhel, a town 25 kilometres from Peshawar known for its arms factories. Authorities severely restricted access to this zone. Finally, police briefly arrested a Japanese TV crew while they tried to reach the border. According to Eric Albert, a foreign correspondent for the French daily France Soir, a member of the security forces forbade him from parking on a road next to a refugee camp. "He pushed me in my car while I was just watching the camp," he said. A foreign correspondent working in Peshawar told RSF that it had become "very hard to work, because the authorities refuse to grant authorisations. It is now impossible to get access to places where we can find news. We are not here to visit the city." Finally, on 24 September, students of the Quranic school of Nowshera (near Peshawar) threatened to destroy the video cameras of foreign journalists visiting the madrassa. According to the daily Dawn, students of Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania complained to the administration about the "presence of female reporters".
It was not until 2 October that the Pakistani government finally lifted the ban preventing foreign journalists from visiting the Afghan border areas of the country. The authorities also announced that they would organise trips to the new Afghan refugee camps. The following day, a CNN crew was allowed to go to the Torkham border post. According to the Federal Information Secretary who announced these decisions, the restrictions were taken to protect the journalists and avoid misreporting about the situation in the country. "We are ready to facilitate your coverage of events in this part of the world," he said to foreign journalists gathered in Islamabad.
On 13 October, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that his government would take sanctions against journalists attempting to enter Afghanistan illegally through Pakistan. "Tell your colleagues not to try it," he said during a press conference.
On 25 October, Aditya Sinha, journalist with the Indian daily Hindustan Times, was expelled by Pakistani authorities. This North-American journalist of Indian origin was arrested while covering an assembly of religious officials and Afghan leaders in Peshawar (north-west of the country). Three men of the Peshawar secret police (Special Branch) took Aditya Sinha to a police station, where he was questioned by an officer, Khalid Massod, who asked him to leave the country to "avoid problems". "They refused to tell me why I had to leave the country," said Sinha in an article published in the Hindustan Times. "I recommend for your own good to not delay your departure. Who knows what could happen if you stayed one day longer?" said the Pakistani officer. After being taken back to his hotel to pick up his baggage, he was again questioned about his contacts with an Afghan women’s association, RAWA. He was then held for more than nine hours by security forces before being taken to the airport where he flew to the United Arab Emirates. Aditya Sinha said that he was not mistreated. Reporters without Borders confirmed that the order to expel the journalist came from the Interior Ministry in Islamabad. His arrest occurred just after he renewed his press visa just for two weeks. He had entered Pakistan on 23 September 2001.
After 11 September, no Indian journalists working for Indian or foreign media were able to obtain press visas from the Pakistani authorities. Reporters with British passports working for the BBC were refused because of their Indian origins. Some reporters who were denied visas included Satinder Bindra, a Canadian bureau chief for CNN in India, Moni Basu, a journalist living in the United States and working for an Atlanta magazine, and Raja Mishra, a reporter with the Boston Globe newspaper, born in Nebraska (United States). On 20 October, a Reporters without Borders representative was received by Noor Saghir Khan, General Director of the Ministry of Information’s Department of International Relations. RSF asked Mr Khan for explanations on the systematic refusal to issue press visas to Indian journalists. He replied that this policy was adopted because of the "propaganda and biased reporting" against Pakistan which was common in the Indian press. He also said that Indian journalists had publicly insulted the Pakistani Head of State and in no way deserved to benefit from the facilities provided to the foreign press by Islamabad.
On 23 October, a journalist with the main Urdu-language daily Jang, based in Karachi, opened an envelope containing white powder. A laboratory confirmed several days later that this powder contained anthrax. On 2 November, the staff of the newspaper was evacuated and the journalist was taken to hospital. The Pakistani government expressed its doubts about the possibility of anthrax being in letters sent to the newspaper.
On 6 November, the Foreign Affairs Ministry called on Mullah Abdul Salam Zaef, the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, to stop his "propaganda" against the United States during his regular press conferences in the garden of the Embassy. According to Pakistani authorities, the Taliban diplomat, in his press conferences attended by hundreds of Pakistani and foreign journalists, allegedly violated "diplomatic norms" by speaking violently against a third country, in this case the United States. According to several sources, Mullah Zaef was not banned from speaking to the press, but this was a serious warning. In any case, after 6 November, the ambassador did not hold any press conferences. But on 7 November he received the most important editors of the Pakistani newspapers at a dinner. Many journalists expressed their concern, after this decision that could prevent them from getting official information from the Taliban when most of their leaders, especially Mullah Omar, very rarely spoke to the press. At the same time, the United States was planning to open an "information centre" in Islamabad, especially to counter "lies" made by the Taliban. Pakistani newspapers regularly published declarations by Ambassador Zaef about Afghans killed by American bombings on their front pages.
On 16 November, the authorities in the North-West Frontier Province prevented a convoy of Pakistani and international reporters from leaving Peshawar for the Afghan border (Torkham). The previous day, more than one hundred reporters crossed the border with a convoy of thousands of armed men organised by the anti-Taliban commander Zaman. The security forces did not ban the journalists from entering Afghanistan, but the authorities later announced that reporters who tried to return to Pakistan would be controlled. According to several sources, the Interior and Tribal Affairs department of the NWFP in Peshawar was responsible for this refusal given to the media. Even reporters from the radio station BBC and US television channel CNN were banned from crossing the border, even though they had received "transit permits" from Federal authorities in Islamabad.
On 30 November, the daily Kawish, based in Hyderabad (south of Pakistan), was the victim of intimidation by the Sindh National Front (SNF, independentist party led by Mumtaz Bhutto). Ayoub Shar, one of the party leaders, accused Niaz Panhwar, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, of not publishing an entire SNF communiqué on the visit of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to India. Shar threatened to boycott the newspaper and organise demonstrations against it. After this call, the newspaper’s staff feared reprisals. The Kawish publishing group had already suffered a campaign of intimidation and violence by the SNF, in 1997; parts of its offices were burned.
On 7 December, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, special correspondent with the American daily The Washington Post, was expelled from Pakistan. The authorities accused him of
continuing to work after his visa had expired. The Associated Press quoted the reporter saying he had requested a renewal of his visa from Pakistani authorities, but it had been was refused. On 2 December, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post bureau chief in Jakarta (Indonesia), was arrested at his hotel in Chaman (western Pakistan) where he had been covering the war for more than a month. Pakistani secret police agents questioned him and took him to the airport. This American journalist of Indian origin had stayed in Islamabad for several days while his newspaper negotiated with the Pakistani authorities for a renewal of his visa.
On 8 December, about ten armed individuals burst into the offices of the conservative daily Ummat in Hyderabad (south of the country) and stormed into the office of its managing editor, Abdul Hafeez Abid, who was not present at the time. The attackers hit some members of the newspaper’s staff and destroyed equipment (computers, faxes, televisions, telephones). After the attack, Abdul Hafeez Abid said he had asked police to protect the offices of Ummat after receiving telephone threats, but they did not react. Abdul Hafeez Abid, known for his vitriolic articles against the MQM party, had already been attacked in the past. According to local journalists, this attack occurred after the publication of article, on the same day, incorrectly stating that Shagufta Jumani and Mazhar Memon (two leaders of the PPP opposition party) were husband and wife; they were actually brother and sister. Another version said that the attackers were followers of the Anjuman-e-Sarfroshan-e-Islam religious group, often denounced by Ummat as being "contrary to Islam".
On 11 December, the government dropped at the last minute a bill on freedom of information from a series of press laws being examined. This unexpected decision angered associations of editors and journalists who had already made recommendations about this law. They claimed that the authorities were "refusing to provide information on government activity to the private press". However, one of the laws passed called for the creation of a press council. The next day, a government spokesman told the press that the law on freedom of information had not been completely dropped. He also said that two laws were being examined: the first would allow the creation of private television and radio stations, the second would allow public audiovisual media to hire professionals from the private sector.
On 29 December, the Pakistani government ordered cable television operators to stop broadcasting Indian programmes received by satellite. Islamabad authorities said that Indian channels, such as Zee TV and Star News, were relaying "anti-Pakistani propaganda". If they did not
respect this order, these operators could lose their licences. An official also underscored that Indian authorities have already adopted a similar measure in some provinces.