A total of 16 journalists were physically attacked, mainly by lawyers, while covering a demonstration organised by the Karachi Bar Association (KBA) on 12 April in Karachi in protest against the dismissal of supreme court president Iftikar Mohammed Chaudhry, Reporters Without Borders said today, condemning the violence.
It was the third time that journalists have been targeted during demonstrations in support of Chaudhry, who was accused by the government of bias in his rulings on the disappearances of political activists.
“This situation is worrying,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists were among the first to condemn the supreme court president’s removal. “This violence must stop, and those responsible should remember the primordial role played by journalists in condemning this attack on judicial independence.”
Police beat Geo TV journalists inside the station’s studios in Islamabad on 16 March because they had been airing footage of lawyers covered in blood from injuries they had received from police during a demonstration in support of Chaudhry. Seven journalists were attacked by policemen and a lawyer linked to the Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, during a similar demonstration the next day in Lahore.
During the 12 April protest, a man identifying himself as a lawyer beat a journalist after smashing one of the indicator lights of his car. Kashif Nizami, Irfan-ul-Haq, Tariq Aziz and Amer Singh were attacked and badly beaten by KBA members when they tried to express their discontent about the attacks they have been receiving ever since they began covering these demonstrations.
Shakir Solangi of the KTN television station was beaten by a parliamentarian, Ghulam Murtuza Satti, after asking Satti to remain silent while he interviewed the president of the Pakistan People’s Party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
The injuries sustained by the other journalists were minor.
Seven journalists injured in Lahore protests, government to punish police officers
Reporters Without Borders today again condemned the use of violence by police against journalists after a total of seven Pakistani journalists were injured while covering protests in Lahore on 17 March against the dismissal of the supreme court president.
Photographer Rana Shehzad of the Urdu-language daily Jinnah fell from the first floor of the Lahore courthouse after allegedly being pushed by police, and was said to be in a serious condition. Dawn TV cameraman Zeeshan Butt sustained head injuries from being beaten with a police baton and was given eight stitches. Police also inflicted injuries on Geo TV reporter Mudassar Butt and his cameraman, Mohammad Afaq.
Police beat Daily Times reporter Rana Tanveer and confiscated his press card. They attacked a photographer identified only as Shah and took his camera and mobile phone. Afsar Khan, a cameraman with state-owned PTV, was attacked by a lawyer who supporters the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) as he was filming in the Lahore courthouse.
The following day, police arrested dozens of journalists who had gathered in Bahwaknagar, in the south of the Punjab province, to protest against the use of violence against their colleagues in Islamabad and Lahore.
A dozen or so policemen and one senior police officers were suspended following the violent raids on Geo TV and several newspapers. President Pervez Musharraf apologised to Geo TV and said he would do his best to ensure that those responsible were punished.
The authorities have also told Geo TV that it can resume broadcasting the programme "Aaj Kamran Khan Saath."
Authorities censor and stage violent raid on Geo TV
Reporters Without Borders is outraged at the way Pakistani police stormed the offices of Geo TV in Islamabad today, hitting Hamid Mir, Ansar Abbasi and other journalists and damaging installations in order to cut short live coverage of protests against the dismissal of the supreme court president.
The raid followed the government’s order to Geo TV yesterday, issued through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), not to broadcast the news programme "Aaj Kamran Khan Key Saath" (Today with Kamran Khan). Hosted by leading investigative journalist Kamran Khan, the programme was not transmitted yesterday. Geo TV, which is distributed by cable, apologised for the "interruption."
Reporters Without Borders called for an investigation into the police raid in Islamabad and the punishment of those responsible. It also called for the return of Geo TV’s programme "Aaj Kamran Khan Key Saath."
"Pakistan’s privately-owned cable TV stations have to face government hostility from a position of weakness," Reporters Without Borders said. "The most appalling methods - censorship and violence - are being used to bring Geo TV and other privately-owned TV stations into line. A return to the past would be considerable blow to press freedom in Pakistan, and President Pervez Musharraf would have to bear responsibility."
Government censors TV coverage of police violence and withdraws advertising from newspaper
Reporters Without Borders today condemned two cases of direct government intervention aimed at influencing the content of independent media - the censorship of TV coverage of demonstrations in support of the newly-dismissed supreme court president and the withdrawal of state advertising from the leading independent daily newspaper Dawn.
"We fear that, in this presidential election year, the independence of the media is going to be under attack from the government," the press freedom organisation said. "President Pervez Musharraf must immediately stop this kind of authoritarian intervention, which jeopardises the freedom of Pakistani journalists to decide what they cover and how they cover it. Under no circumstances should they be used as propaganda tools."
The Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) suspended the broadcasts of two privately-owned television stations - Aaj and Geo TV - for several minutes on 12 March, after they transmitted footage of blood-soaked lawyers who had been beaten by police during a demonstration in support of supreme court president Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.
The government fired Chaudhry and placed him under house arrest for abuse of authority on 9 March because of rulings he had issued on cases of political activists who disappeared while in custody.
A journalist working for one of the two TV stations told Reporters Without Borders that the PEMRA had ordered cable and satellite TV operators to black out stations that carried images of the police violence in Islamabad and Lahore. After initially broadcasting this footage, the stations withdrew it from subsequent reports.
"The media are being placed under enormous pressure, the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The government wants all news reports to be in favour of the government. The media nowadays are a reflection of this government pressure."
Durrani told Reporters Without Borders: "Under no circumstances did the government ban the media from broadcasting these images. This is a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council. The media are very dear to us and no TV station has been censored."
Federal justice minister Wazi Safar insulted journalist Ansar Abbasi of the daily newspaper The News during a round-table debate on 12 March about Chaudhry’s dismissal, which was broadcast by the Voice of America’s Urdu-language service. "He accused me of blackmail and threatened me without any reason," Abbasi told Reporters Without Borders. "I intend to take this matter before the courts."
Published by Pakistan Herald Publications Limited, the daily newspaper Dawn is meanwhile trying to cope without state advertising. The newspaper’s lawyers appealed to the high court of the southern state of Sindh on 6 March for the lifting of this sanction. The amount of state advertising placed with this popular, independent newspaper has been cut back drastically since December. The lawyers attribute this to its coverage of the situation in Balochistan.
"To disguise this punitive policy, advertising is placed very occasionally," the lawyers said in a joint statement. "In reality, even a partial boycott violates the freedom of press guaranteed by article 19 of the constitution."