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Pakistan 12 March 2002

A journalist resigns under government pressure

In a letter addressed to Pakistani Information minister Nisar A. Memon, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders -RSF) expressed its deep concern after the resignation of Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the daily The News, on March 1st 2002. "We ask the new Information minister to clear up this case ", declared Robert Ménard, RSF general secretary. "Government statements in favour of press freedom go right against the government’s manipulations" he deplored. The organisation for the defence of press freedom also asked the minister to do everything in his power to have the call for journalists’ free circulation launched by the SAARC on 9 March 2002 heard and enforced.

According to the information obtained by RSF, Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the English-speaking daily The News, filed his resignation on March1st 2002 and declared he was acting under "government pressure". Indeed, the journalist would have refused to dismiss Kamran Khan, Amir Mateen and Rauf Klasra, the three of them journalists for the daily, as requested by his editor in chief. Kamran Khan had signed an article suggesting that Sheikh Omar, instigator of the abduction of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was involved in the attack against the Indian parliament last December. As for Amir Mateen, based in Washington, he had revealed that during the last official journey of President Pervez Musharraf in the United States, some of his ministers "had remained in the shadow" for security reasons. Shaheen Sehbai and Rauf Klasra had already complained, a few weeks earlier, about pressures exerted by secret agencies.

It is not the first time that the government brings pressure to bear on the management of a daily. On 21 July 2001, Masood Malik, journalist for the daily in Urdu Nawa-i-Waqt, had been demoted the day after his intervention with General Musharraf. On July 20, the journalist had attended the press conference given by the Pakistani head of State at the Agra summit and had asked the following question: "If an elected head of State had gone to the summit, he may have been more productive. What’s your opinion?" The next day, the journalist was asked to leave the reporting team and to join the editorial staff for having "violated" the newspaper editorial line. The press and information department, regulatory body for the Pakistani media, had put pressure on the daily managers so that a sanction be taken against the journalist.

Besides, Reporters sans frontières is pleased with the call launched by the Information ministers of the countries members of the SAARC (Southern Asia Association for Regional Co-operation) at the summit closing conference on 9 March 2002, inviting to journalists’ free circulation in that zone. The organisation for the defence of press freedom is hoping that the work-meetings on that topic, mentioned by the Pakistani Information minister, will be effective.

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