The 140 journalists arrested in Karachi were released late yesterday although there was no news of the journalists arrested in Hyderabad on the same day. But today police charged a demonstration by journalists in front of the Faisalabad press club in the south of Pakistan. Around a dozen of them were injured by police officers who fired tear gas. At least 15 demonstrators were arrested, including two reporters with Agence France-Presse. Security forces arrested 25 journalists in Quetta in the southwest who were chanting slogans in support of press freedom._
At least 160 journalists arrested during press freedom rally in Sindh province
Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of at least 160 journalists arrested by police in Karachi and Hyderabad as they demonstrated peacefully for press freedom.
The worldwide press freedom organisation also condemned police brutality against the demonstrators in Karachi, where the vast majority of the arrests were made. Around 20 were arrested in Hyderabad.
Scores of police wielding batons charged peaceful demonstrators who had first gathered in front of the Karachi press club. They attacked as the demonstrators tried to move close to the residence of the provincial governor, injuring at least five journalists, one of whom suffered head injuries.
Around 20 journalists, including Shamim-ur-Rehman, president of the Karachi journalists’ union, and Sabih Uddin Ghousi, president of the Karachi press club, were arrested in the street. At least 140 demonstrators then took refuge in the press club, which was quickly surrounded by the security forces. The protestors were arrested as they left the building.
Agence France-Presse quoted a police officer as saying that he had received orders to use force against the journalists who were gathering near the governor’s residence. The demonstrators were chanting slogans against the restrictions on press freedom imposed by President Pervez Musharraf. One journalist in Karachi who attended the rally confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that it had been a peaceful protest.
"While the government boasts of having freed thousands of political activists and lawyers arrested since 3 November, police in Karachi are brutally arresting more than 150 journalists," the organisation said.
The state of emergency cannot be used to justify gratuitous violence which causes serious harm to Pakistan’s international image. President Pervez Musharraf should give clear orders for the crackdown against journalists to stop immediately," it added.
The arrests came as Reporters Without Borders was taking part, among other journalists organisations, in an international on-the-spot study of the situation in the country.
Elsewhere, Shoaib Bhutta, editor of the Urdu-language Daily Tulou, was arrested at his office in Islamabad on 17 November by a group of eight people, apparently members of the security services. The journalist was released two days later, but the same day uniformed police seized the paper’s computers. The equipment has not been returned.
Bhutta said his guards had told him he had been detained on the orders of the head of the Punjab provincial government and the chief of police. During questioning, he was asked why he criticised the authorities. He was not allowed to sleep during the time he was held and was kept chained up.