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Pakistan 1 October 2007

Police injure 31 journalists covering demonstrations

Government sanctions three officers including Islamabad police chief

Reporters Without Borders urged President Pervez Musharraf to react firmly after at least 30 journalists were wounded by police trying to stop them covering a crackdown on demonstrations in Islamabad and Peshawar by lawyers opposing the president’s candidacy at upcoming elections.

Police set about the lawyers and journalists with clubs and threw stones at them in Islamabad on 29 September. Twenty-nine journalists were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The government today sanctioned Islamabad police chief Marwat Ali Shah and two officers, on the order of the Supreme Court. "Shah should be suspended and arrested because he is responsible for what happened on Saturday," said Supreme Court president Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, after viewing footage of the police brutality.

The worldwide press freedom organisation urged the president to see that there was a full investigation of the police brutality in both Islamabad and Peshawar in which a total of 80 people were injured.

"Although the courts imposed sanctions, the government should now prosecute all those who gave the orders as well as those who applied them with such ferocity, the organisation said.

"We note the government’s decision to suspend Islamabad’s police chief and two officers following a Supreme Court order," it said. "This is an important first step, but the federal government must punish all the guilty so that police officers are brought to book and such incidents are not repeated".

In the capital, one female reporter was dragged several metres by her hair while two of her colleagues were beaten. Several cameraman had their equipment destroyed. In Peshawar, a cameraman with Aaj TV, Khalilur Rehman, needed hospital treatment after being beaten up by riot police.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said that several hospitals refused to give injured journalists medical certificates in case they brought complaints against the police.

Several privately-run TV channels, including Aaj TV, ARY and Geo TV, had their programmes pulled by cable operators for several hours because they showed footage of the violence.

The NUJP declared 30 September to be a "black day" to protest against the violence. Demonstrations were held in several cities, while the Pakistani press called the incident the "Battle of Constitution Avenue".

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