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Pakistan 8 November 2007

News media resist censorship and crackdown by Musharraf government

The crackdown launched by the government and army on 3 November is above all targeting lawyers, judges, opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists. Five photographers and cameramen were released in Karachi on 6 November, while Imtiaz Alam, a newspaper journalist and head of the press freedom organisation SAFMA, was released in Lahore after being held for more 30 hours.

"We support the Pakistani media that are refusing to comply with the censorship imposed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf on 3 November," Reporters Without Borders said. "The independence of its newspapers, radio stations and TV stations is one of Pakistan’s greatest assets and must be defended at all cost. We call on the authorities to stop intimidating the press and to rescind the two media ordinances that were adopted at the same time as the state of emergency."

Gen. Musharraf has been on the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom predators since 2004.

The main journalists and media groupings - the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association and the South Asia Free Media Association - have announced a national campaign for the repeal of the ordinances that amended the print and broadcast media laws.

Several Pakistani media have reported that the information ministry’s Press Information Department (PID) has created a special bureau with instructions to monitor the 21 national dailies and 13 leading regional newspapers to see that they respect the censorship rules introduced in the new print media ordinance.

The newspapers under surveillance include the Daily Times, Dawn, The News, Pakistan Observer, Jang, Ausaf, Khabrian and Jinnah. The regional governments have reportedly also been instructed to monitor compliance with the ordinance, which includes a ban on reports that are hostile to the president and the armed forces. The Daily Times said the PID is supposed to send a report at 4 p.m. every day to the head of the ministry’s Home Publicity department.

Police barred access on 6 November to the Peshawar Press Club, where government opponents wanted to hold a news conference. "A sizable group of police officers took up position outside the club and no one was able to enter," the club’s president, Muhammad Riaz, told Reporters Without Borders. "No one has been able to address Peshawar’s journalists since 5 November." Police also barred access to the press club in Faisalabad.

The Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) confirmed on 6 November that the authorities had released the five journalists arrested the previous day outside the city’s press club. KUJ president Shamin-ur-Rehman told Reporters Without Borders that the police registered a complaint against Mohammed Mohsin of Indus TV, Shariq Ahmed of the newspaper Khabrian, Nazeer Khan of the daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Fazal-ur-Rahman of the newspaper Mehshar and Asghar Shah of Aaj TV in which they were accused of "attempted murder" and "banditry."

Alam, the secretary-general of the SAFMA and a senior member of the staff of The News daily newspaper, was held overnight after his arrest in Lahore on 5 November and was released the next day.

Around 10 reporters and photographers were roughed up and arrested by police in the southwestern city of Quetta while covering an opposition demonstration on 5 November. Nazeeruddin Siddique, a photographer with the Nation daily newspaper, was arrested by police the same day in Karachi. Reporters Without Borders has not yet confirmed if he has been released.

Journalists were also beaten and insulted by police while covering a demonstration by lawyers in Rawalpindi, near the capital. Photographer Muhammad Javed had two of his fingers broken by a policeman, who also took the memory card from his digital camera.

A pro-Taliban organisation has meanwhile threatened to bomb the Jang press group for publishing photos of "young women." The group’s chief executive, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, said he had also been the target of a murder attempt and death threats by jihadist groups based in Karachi.

Independent TV stations can still be seen on the Internet although, according to a Gallup poll, only 15 per cent of Pakistanis have a connection. There has been a marked increase in visits to the website of Geo TV, the first television station in Pakistan to broadcast independent news programmes. It is now reportedly receiving more than 1 million visits a day.

Sales of newspapers, especially issues with supplements on the state of emergency, have also soared since the ban was imposed on privately-owned radio and TV stations. The BBC World Service has increased the number of its Urdu-language news programmes, which can still be received on the short wave but no longer on FM, as the army closed the FM 103 station on 3 November.


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