Reporters Without Borders today expressed deep concern after Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule and ordered a halt to broadcasts by privately-owned TV in all the country’s major cities.
Mobile phone communications were also cut in some regions as the constitution was suspended and the country plunged into a deep political crisis. In Islamabad, police surrounded the Supreme Court which was due to give its verdict over the next few days on the legality of the president’s re-election on 6 October.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was ordered by the president’s office to halt all private cable and satellite broadcasts of all regional and national channels, particularly news channels. Only Pakistani public television PTV, on which the president was due to speak in the evening, was allowed to continue broadcasting. Otherwise just a few entertainment channels were left untouched.
Blackouts were first imposed in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Lahore before being extended to other cities such as Karachi and Peshawar. Mobile phone communications were frequently interrupted in the capital.
“The government headed by General Musharraf is certainly confronted with a number of challenges, including violence by the most radical Islamist groups, but that is not a reason to impose a state of emergency and to restrict press freedom in this way,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“The illegality of this latest coup has been confirmed by the supreme court. The head of state should listen to it and cancel this decision which has dramatic consequences for freedom of expression. We urge the government and the army to quickly allow a resumption of broadcasts by the Pakistani television channels and allow the press to work freely and safely,” the organisation said
Pakistan is in 152nd position in Reporters Without Borders world press freedom rankings released in October 2007.