Mohammed Tahir, the editor of the Islamist weekly Wajood, was freed on bail on 9 September by the supreme court of Sindh province. He was on arrested on 19 July and then placed in custody under article 153 of the Pakistani criminal code for publishing extracts of a book deemed to be an incitement to religious hate.
Wajood and two other Islamist weeklies, Zarb-e-Islam and Friday Special, were banned last month by the Sindh government on the same grounds. Friday Special deputy editor Abdul Latif Abu Shamil was freed on bail on 5 August by a judge in Karachi, the capital of Sindh.
Fight against hate media risks being used as a pretext to curb free expression
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at abuses during a massive security forces operation against Islamist extremist groups, including against Karachi-based publications.
The worldwide press freedom organisation stresses its strong condemnation of calls to violence and racial hatred pedalled by some Pakistani publications but cautions against misuse of anti-terror laws to imprison journalists critical of the current government.
"The credibility of the anti-terrorist policy of President Pervez Musharraf will be judged by its ability to respect the law and not to make use of it to silence opponents," the organisation said.
Police in Sindh Province on 19 July searched the offices of at least four Karachi-based publications: the weeklies Friday Special, Wajood, and Ghazi as well as the daily Ummat.
At least two journalists are now in police custody. Abdul Lateef Abu Shamil, associate editor of Friday Special (supplement of the Urdu-language daily Jasarat, close to the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party) was detained under Articles 153 (A) and 34 of the Pakistani criminal code. Police are looking for the weekly’s editor. Mohammed Tahir, editor of Wajood, was also placed in custody until 2 August. Two of his colleagues, Ali Ataf and Zakirullah, have gone into hiding.
Police on 16 July arrested two managers of the extremist weekly Zarab-e-Islam in Karachi. They have been charged with incitement to religious hatred. Police also arrested the vendors of another radical weekly Zarb-e-Momin which has been banned. Both openly support Jihadist groups.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) has condemned the arrests and police searches as has the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). "Why ban these publications now when they have been in existence for years?" asked the PFUJ.
These steps have been taken against the background of a wave of arrests of militants throughout Pakistan. More than 200 people have been arrested and raids launched against scores of religious schools. President Musharraf justified the sweep in an address to the nation on 21 July 2005 as essential to the fight against international terrorism. The head of state confirmed a ban on all "hate material" including cassettes, publications and videos.