Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the government’s decision today to expel three reporters employed by the London-based Telegraph group of newspapers because of an editorial about President Pervez Musharraf in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph which the information ministry called “foul and abusive.”
“After closing down Pakistan’s independent TV stations and adopting measures to reinforce censorship of all the country’s news media, the authorities are now going after visiting foreign reporters,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Gen. Musharraf is demonstrating a disturbing degree of authoritarianism and behaving like an all-out press freedom predator, violating both the rights of journalists and the public’s right to independent and freely-reported news at time that is crucial for Pakistan’s future,” Reporters Without Borders added.
Deputy information minster Tariq Azim said the three Telegraph group reporters were today given 72 hours to leave the country for “foul and abusive language against Pakistan and Pakistan’s leadership.” Their expulsion was prompted by an editorial criticising Britain’s and the United States’ relationship with Musharraf and accusing him of displaying a mix of “incompetence and brutality.”
The three reporters - identified by the British press as Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Damien Mc Elroy - are the first foreign reporters to be targeted since a state of emergency was declared in Pakistan on 3 November.
The British authorities said they were “seeking clarification.” The Telegraph group has not yet made any comment.
The Pakistani authorities have cracked down hard on the news media since the start of the state of emergency. Dozens of journalists have been detained, physically attacked or prevented from working, while equipment has been seized from several broadcast media. New regulations for the print and broadcast media issued on 3 November are a death warrant of some of the privately-owned TV and radio news stations that have emerged in recent years.