Pakistan

Area: 803,943 sq. km.
Population: 141,971,000
Languages: English (off.) and Urdu (off.)
Type of state: Islamic federal republic
Head of state: President Pervez Musharraf
Head of government: Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali (since November)


Pakistan - 2003 Annual report

Gen. Pervez Musharraf did not keep his promise to respect press freedom. The ubiquitous security services harassed the country’s few investigative journalists, while the adoption of new press laws posed a threat to the relatively critical tone of the print media.

Relations between the press and the military regime worsened in the run-up to the October 2002 general elections. The security forces, especially the military’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), tried to influence newspaper editors by repeatedly giving them "advice." Gen. Musharraf publicly accused them of belittling his political allies and of being in the pay of the "opposition forces." Daily Times editor Najam Sethi said Musharraf’s response to criticism was the "traditional conspiracy theory."

A group of investigative journalists in Islamabad paid the price for this increase in friction. Amir Mateen, Rauf Klasra and Ansar Abbasi were harassed by the ISI, and the most famous of them, Shaheen Sehbai, had to flee the country. "Get in line, or you will feel some stick," the ISI warned him. The online news site he set up in the United States was a success thanks to his damaging revelations about the military. The authorities harassed his family and banned Pakistani journalists from picking up his reports. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a minister in the Musharraf government and former head of the ISI, was openly contemptuous of the press: "Pakistani journalists are of two categories. The left-wing, liberal journalist can be bought by India for two bottles of whisky while the right-wing journalists are patriotic. The job of the ’purchased’ journalist is to pick up disinformation published in India and print it in Pakistan as his own investigative work."

Slowly but surely, the government paved the way for a liberalisation of the broadcast media. Pakistan lags far behind neighbouring India, which already has many privately-owned radio and TV stations. The government established the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on 16 January 2002 to license privately-owned radio and TV stations. Pakistanis with subscriptions to cable or satellite services could already receive two private channels in Urdu, including Geo TV which broadcasts from Dubai and London. In October, the government also enacted the freedom of information law granting journalists and other citizens access to government information except when "national security" was at stake.

On the other hand, the adoption of three new press laws, including one on "defamation," was a major setback for press freedom. One of the main journalists’ associations said the draconian new defamation law would mean there was "not even a semblance of freedom of expression and press freedom."

The abduction and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl by a radical Islamist group served as a dramatic reminder of the hate with which western reporters are regarded by jihad movements. The police investigation and the trial, from which journalists were barred, resulted in a death sentence for the instigator and life sentence for three accomplices, but many questions were left unanswered.
After banning a number of radical fundamentalist movements in January, the military regime did not proceed to stop the publication of Islamist magazines glorifying jihad. These continued to circulate. The banned radical movement Lashkar-e-Taiba continued to publish three monthlies, Al-Kibal in Arabic, Zarb-e-Taiba for young people and Voice of Islam in English. Osama bin Laden’s men and the Taliban were portrayed as "brave mujahideen" and those who died in the jihad were praised as "martyrs" and their dying wishes were published in full.

The coalition of religious parties that came third in the October elections campaigned for the introduction of the Sharia. They said they wanted to limit the spread of cable networks and cinema, accusing them of corrupting Pakistan’s Islamic character. The new government in North-West Frontier Province, which was led by this coalition, wanted to "eliminate obscenity and vulgarity."

Two journalists murdered

The police in the southern city of Karachi, the country’s economic capital, discovered the headless body of US journalist Daniel Pearl in a suburban garden on 17 May 2002. Pearl, 38, the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Bombay (India) was kidnapped in Karachi on 23 January. He had been there for the previous three weeks, with his French journalist wife Marianne, investigating the contacts of British hijacker Richard Reid who had gone to Pakistan shortly before trying to hijack a Paris-Miami flight on 22 December 2001. Pearl disappeared after leaving for a meeting with jihadi activists. As soon as his disappearance was reported, the government ordered the federal and local police to launch a manhunt and leave no stone unturned. Dow Jones & Co., the Wall Street Journal’s publisher, said it was working with the US and Pakistani governments.
On 12 February, the Pakistani police announced the arrest of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, better known as Sheikh Omar, leader of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad movement. Identified by the authorities as the instigator of Pearl’s abduction, Sheikh Omar had in fact been arrested several days earlier, but the police preferred to interrogate him in secret. Pearl’s death was confirmed when the US embassy in Pakistan on 21 February received a video recording of his execution. The trial of Sheikh Omar and seven other Islamists began in Hyderabad on 5 April amid considerable security measures. They were accused of kidnapping for ransom, murder and terrorist acts. Pakistani journalists were not allowed to attend. On 15 July, the court sentenced Sheikh Omar to death, and his three accomplices to life imprisonment. When the verdict was announced, Sheikh Omar said the trial had been a waste of time in the decisive war between Islam and the infidels. His lawyer said he would appeal while the United States finally abandoned its request for his extradition. However, in August it emerged that police had arrested three new suspects, who had led them to Pearl’s body and revealed facts about his death. But the government was clearly not interested in reholding the trial.

Shahid Soomro, 26, father of two and correspondent of the Sindhi-language newspaper Kawish, was gunned down outside his home in Kandhkot (southeastern Pakistan) on the night of 20 October. He had been gone outside in response to a summons by individuals who had initially tried to kidnap him. When he resisted, they opened fire with a Kalashnikov and a revolver and then fled in a vehicle. Hit in the abdomen, Soomro died while being rushed to hospital. His family and friends linked his killing to his reports on abuses during the election campaign. His brother filed a complaint identifying three persons. They were Mohammad Bajkani and two brothers, Wahid Ali and Mohammad Ali Bijarani. These two were the brothers of Mir Mehboob Bijarani, who had just been elected to the Kandhkot provincial assembly for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the nephews of Mir Hazzar Khan Bijarani, former member of the national assembly and former federal minister. Hundreds of journalists demonstrated in several cities in the province to demand the arrest and punishment of Soomro’s killers. Police arrested Mohammad Ali Bijarani the day after the murder. Wahid Ali Bijarani turned himself in on 23 October. They had not been tried by the end of 2002.

Two journalists abducted

Ghulam Hasnain, a Pakistani journalist working for the US news weekly Time, returned home on 24 January 2002 after being reported missing for two days. He refused to tell the press what had happened. A fellow journalist in Karachi said he was in a state of shock. No one claimed responsibility for this abduction and the authorities never commented on it. Several Karachi journalists said they thought Hasnain had been the victim of intimidation by the ISI. His wife, a journalist with the daily Dawn, said she had received a call on 23 January from the special police (government security service) who had questioned her about her husband’s past and political sympathies.

Muzaffar Ejaz, editor-in-chief of the Urdu-language daily Jasarat, was abducted between his home and office in the southern city of Karachi on the evening of 24 July. He was held for several hours by ISI agents who threatened him with "reprisals." He had been harassed by the ISI since 16 July, when he ran a report detailing the military government’s strategies for uniting the various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League for the coming elections. The day the report came out, an ISI officer called him to request an interview. When they met, the ISI officer asked him to name the sources used by the journalist who wrote the report. Ejaz refused, but offered to publish the military’s version. The officer turned down the offer and threatened to use other methods to find out. Ejaz thereafter received telephone threats and was followed by persons believed to be ISI agents. Two other journalists, including Zarrar Khan, the Associated Press correspondent in Karachi, received threats because they had supported Ejaz publicly.

Five journalists imprisoned

A request for the release on bail of Munawar Mohsin, who edited the "Letters to the editor" section of the daily Frontier Post, was filed by his uncle with a Peshawar judge on 2 February 2002. Mohsin was arrested with four other journalists in January 2001 for publishing a letter deemed to have been blasphemous. The police decided it was negligence. Mohsin was still held in Peshawar central prison at the end of 2002.

Amardeep Bassey, a reporter with the British weekly Sunday Mercury (published in Birmingham by the Trinity Mirror group) was arrested on 10 May as he crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan at the northwestern border post of Torkhan with two guides from Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. He was put in Landikotal prison because he did not have a Pakistani exit visa yet had been in Peshawar a few days earlier. Bassey had been in the region for several weeks, after flying to Kabul at the invitation of the British foreign office to report on the British contingent of the international force there. As he had already done some reporting in Pakistan in the past, he had decided to stay in the region and had gone to Peshawar. On his arrest, he was questioned by the police and security services for several hours. After he had been held for three days, he was accused of spying for India. Bassey, who is of Indian origin, said the charge was ridiculous.
At a meeting with the Reporters Without Borders correspondent on 15 May, Bassey said he had been treated well and had been interrogated about his relations with India. The next day, Bassey and his two guides were transferred to Peshawar for further questioning, but were returned to Landikotal a few hours later because the Peshawar police had no investigators available. He told Reporters Without Borders that he was interrogated "day and night" during the days that followed. Meanwhile, two Sunday Mercury envoys were not allowed to see him. On 27 May, the interior ministry in Islamabad sent orders to the Peshawar regional authorities to expel Bassey within a week. But these orders took several days to reach the right officials. Bassey said he was desperate about the delay in his release. He was finally set free on 6 June, after being held for 26 days, and he left for London via Dubai the same night. His two Pakistani guides, Naoshad Ali Afridi and Khitab Shah Shinwari, were held for a further week in Peshawar.

Rashid Butt, a journalist with the local dailies Bakhabar and Lashkar, was arrested at his office in Quetta (capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan) on 1 June and was placed in police detention under articles 500, 501 and 502 of the criminal procedure code and article 16 of the maintenance of public order ordinance. Quetta chief of police Abid Ali said Butt was arrested because of a report in which he "tried to create panic" by making baseless criticisms against the police. After protests by journalists throughout the province, he was set free on the evening of 5 June. To get the charges dropped, journalists in Quetta began a boycott of news about the police, forming an action committee that won the support of the information ministry’s provincial office. But the Quetta police turned a deaf ear, and the charges were still pending at the end of the year. The police chief also filed a formal complaint on 14 June against the editor of the Urdu-language newspaper Bakhabar, which carried Butt’s report.

Ayub Khoso, an editorialist with the daily Alakh, was released on bail from Hyderabad prison in the southern province of Sind on 24 October as a result of a decision by a bench of Sindh high court quashing his conviction for blasphemy. He had been in prison since December 1999. The court also overturned the conviction of Alakh’s editor Zahoor Ansari. Khoso returned to his village in the Mirpurkhas area, but the complaint against him was maintained, and he was scheduled to appear in court on 25 November for the first hearing in a new trial. In the original trial, which violated all international judicial standards, an anti-terrorist court in Mirpurkhas convicted Khoso in absentia and sentenced him to 17 years in prison for publishing an excerpt from a book that maintained that homosexuality emerged at the time of the prophets Adam, Habeal and Qabeel. The Mirpurkhas court’s judge deemed this to be an "insult" to the Prophet. The complaint was filed by Ahmed Mian Barkati, a fundamentalist leader in the Mirpurkhas area known for filing lawsuits in connection with publications he considers to be an incitement to "religious hate." Khoso was a teacher in a private school in his village, and used to publish opinion pieces regularly in newspapers in the region, especially Ibrat, Alakh, Tameer-e-Sind, Sawural and Sham. He was fired from his teaching post following his conviction.

Rehmat Shah Afridi, editor in chief of the English-language daily Frontier Post, received a visit from a group of journalists on 7 November in his cell in Kot Lakhpat prison in Lahore, where he was awaiting execution for alleged drug trafficking. He said he was suffering from back ache, heart and kidney problems and a skin ailment. He had been allowed no comforts and had not even been given a class C cell although he had requested a class B one. He had to sleep on the floor with just a blanket and no pillow. Only his family and lawyer were normally permitted to visit him. Reporters Without Borders believes Afridi was imprisoned, convicted and sentenced to death in June 2001 because of his journalistic activities as the head of the Peshawar-based Frontier Post, and not because of any involvement in drug trafficking. His newspaper had carried frequent reports of corruption within Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force, which was set up with US support.

51 journalists physically attacked
At least 25 journalists were injured by police, three of them seriously, when they walked out of a campaign meeting by President Musharraf in Iqbal stadium in Faisalabad, in the eastern province of Punjab, on 14 April 2002. Provincial governor Khalid Maqbool had opened the meeting with a diatribe against the Pakistani press, accusing them of lying about the number that attended the president’s recent meeting in Lahore and urging the crowd to boo the news media for being irresponsible and misrepresenting the facts. The journalists present walked out, shouting criticisms of the governor, and were booed by the crowd as they left. A witness claimed that a senior official ordered the police to make the journalists pay for this boycott. A.R. Shuja, Tahir Rasheed, Tasneem of the daily Khabrain, Mian Aslam of the daily Business Report, Mehtabuddin Nishat of the daily Ghareeb, S. Safraz Sahi of the newspaper Insaf, Malik Naeem of the daily Parwaz, Naseer Chema and Muhammad Bilal of the daily Current Report, Ramzan Nasir of the daily Tehrik, Mayed Ali of The News, Roman Ihsang of the daily Jang, Nasir Butt and Khalid of the Daily Pakistan, Mian Saeef of the daily Ausaf, Jawed Saddiqui of the daily Musawat, Saeed Qadri of the daily Din, Mian Rifaat Qadri of News International Network (NNI), Jawed Malik of the daily Soorat-i-Hal, Ashfaq Jahangir of the daily Parwaz, Sarfraz Ahmad Sahi, bureau chief of the daily Insaf, Mian Nadeem of the independent Online News Agency and Mehtabbudin of the local Urdu-language daily were all beaten with batons. Officials ordered hospitals not give the victims any medical certificates, needed to file a complaint. Information minister Nisar Memon said the same day that President Musharraf took the incident very seriously and had immediately ordered an enquiry so that the police officers involved could be punished. No one had been punished at the end of the 2002.
Police hit about a dozen press photographers with batons in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, on 21 April as the police were trying to prevent activists of the Islamist political party Jamaat-i-Islami from staging a protest against the referendum on the renewal of President Musharraf’s mandate.
Members of Hazara Qaumi Mahaz (HQM), a pro-government party, kicked and punched Tariq Swati, a cameraman with the state-owned television channel PTV, outside a polling station in Abbottabad (North-West Frontier Province) on 30 April, accusing him of not shooting enough footage of President Musharraf’s supporters. One of the assailants threatened him with a revolver while he was on the ground, and might have shot him if other journalists had not intervened. Doctors said his kidneys were injured in the attack. A complaint was filed on 3 May and police arrested the suspects the same day. They were released on bail the next day, but officials told Reporters Without Borders that prosecutors were pursuing the case.
Farman Ali Jan and Mehmoodul Hassan, photographers with the Urdu-language dailies Jang and Khabrian, were assaulted by police on 9 May outside a court in Peshawar where a former head of the North-West Frontier Province government was on trial. After expelling them from the courthouse compound, the police said they could take pictures of the courthouse from atop a stationary vehicle. Just as they were about to take their shots, a policeman at the wheel suddenly set the vehicle in motion, throwing the photographers to the ground. Hassan was hospitalised with an arm injury.
Tanveer Shahzad, a photographer with the daily Dawn, Asif Bhatti, a reporter with the Business Recorder, Waheed Ahmed, a photographer with the same newspaper, Naveed Akram, a reporter with The News and Nadeem, a cameraman with the cable channel Geo TV, came under fire from the Islamabad police on 29 July. They had evaded a police roadblock in order to cover fatal clashes between police and residents of the villages of Pind Sangrial and Sri Saral (near the capital), prompted by the demolition of a number of homes. The journalists came under fire from the police on their return. After being caught by a policeman, Akram was beaten and his film was destroyed. A policeman later said shots were fired because the journalists had tried to "flee." The police had strict orders to prevent journalists from getting to the village, another police officer said.
Photographers Tanzil-ur-Rehman of the daily Jang, Waheedullah of the daily Statesman, Raja Imran of the daily Express and Azam Hussein of the daily Ausaf and cameraman Amjad Aziz Malik of Geo-TV were beaten by customs officials on 29 September as they were covering a customs inspection on a street in Peshawar. More than 200 journalists staged a protest two days later in Peshawar to protest against the absence of any sanction against the customs officials.
Mehboob Ali Brohi, a reporter with the regional Sindhi-language newspaper Shaam, was the victim of a kidnapping attempt near the mosque in Thatta (in the south of the country) on 14 December by a group of armed men led by Riaz Shirazi, a member of a powerful land-owning family. Brohi was beaten when he resisted and was threatened with further reprisals if he continued to write critically about the Shirazi family. As a result of pressure from the town’s journalists, the police agreed to take a complaint, but no one was arrested.

At least three journalists threatened
After revealing the existence of a draft defamation law proposing heavy prison sentences for offending journalists on 29 May 2002, thereby setting off an outcry among the country’s major newspapers, Rauf Klasra of The News in Islamabad was followed and threatened by the security services. His home and office were watched for five days. Senior officials warned him to take care with what he wrote. An unmarked car followed him around. The surveillance only came to end after the Daily Times published a story about it, signed by its editor Najam Sethi. Various sources said Klasra had been in the government’s sights because of a number of exclusives on such subjects as a loan by a state bank that was not paid back and irregularities during the referendum on the renewal of President Musharraf’s mandate. In February, the authorities pressured Shaheen Sehbai, then editor of The News, to stop using Klasra as a reporter.
Ansar Abbasi, The News bureau chief in Islamabad, was threatened on 6 June in the presence of witnesses by Gen. Talat Munir, head of the civilian intelligence agency called the Intelligence Bureau. Abbasi had contacted him about the harassment of one of the newspaper’s reporters, Rauf Klasra, by the security services. Gen. Munir responded: "You will also have to give an accounting of your actions. You will have to dig your own grave." The newspaper’s editor got in direct contact with President Musharraf after being informed of the incident. Abbasi told Reporters Without Borders that Munir’s threat probably alluded to his critical reporting on Pakistan’s security services. A few week earlier, ISI agents prevented Abbasi from entering government buildings and an officer questioned relatives about his activities.
Amir Mateen, an investigative journalist with The News, was the target of intimidation in early September after writing several reports on the government’s suspected intention of rigging the general elections on 10 October, a fear voiced by opposition parties. Mateen’s phones were tapped and he was followed by ISI agents. His colleagues and relatives were also harassed. He told the secretary for information Anwer Mahmood what was happening, and he filed a complaint against persons unknown at an Islamabad police station. The police received the complaint but did not open an investigation. While in New York in the second week of September, information minister Nisar Memon pledged to journalists there that he would personally look into the case, but Mateen was never contacted by any government official. He was openly threatened at the end of September by ISI agents who told him he had "learned nothing" from the treatment received so far and warned that, given his heart problems, he might not be able to stand "a day of torture."

Pressure and obstruction
The authorities ordered the Urdu-language daily Dopeher to close for 30 days on 2 January 2002 for reporting that there were divisions within the government about a ban on the jihad movements. The police summoned the managing editor for questioning and then surrounded the newspaper’s offices to enforce the closure. The sanction, ordered under the 1963 press law, was lifted after four days because of protests from the national press.
On 3 January, police in the southern city of Hyderabad registered a criminal complaint against Ali Qazi, editor of the regional daily Kawish, and Ayub Qabi, the newspaper’s executive editor, in what was seen by local media as an attempt to silence a newspaper known for reporting human rights violations and police abuses. The complaint was filed by a person who alleged that thugs acting at the behest of the two newspaper editors had tried to occupy his lands by force and by means of death threats. Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists demonstrated to demand the withdrawal of the complaint. The two editors were not arrested, but the complaint remained pending.
The government lifted a ban on the Indian TV sports channels ESPN and STAR Sports on 4 January, allowing privately-owned Pakistani cable operators to carry them again. Cable operators had been ordered to suspend the distribution of Indian channels throughout Pakistan six days earlier, at the height of the tension between the two countries, in order to combat "the evil propaganda against Pakistan." The Indian news channels Zee News and STAR News were still banned at the end of 2002.
The government banned the Pakistani press on 12 January from publishing the communiqués of the radical Islamist groups that had just been outlawed on President Musharraf’s orders.
The telecommunication authority rescinded the license of a cable TV operation in Haripur (North-West Frontier Province) during the week of 13 January. An official said the operator had continued to carry Indian channels despite the ban issued on 29 December 2001.
On 16 January, the government issued a decree establishing the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to license privately-owned radio and TV stations and cable TV operators thereby ending the state’s monopoly of the electronic media. But programming was required to comply with a code of values and to be strictly and regularly controlled, and foreign companies and non-resident Pakistanis were barred from requesting a licence. Under the decree, the president appoints an "eminent professional" as chairman of the authority. The president also appoints the authority’s nine other members, three of whom come from the interior ministry, information ministry and telecommunication authority and the others are "eminent citizens" from different fields including the media.
Shaheen Sehbai, the editor of Pakistan’s most influential English-language newspaper The News, resigned on 1 March "rather than submit to government pressure." He had refused a request from his editor in chief to fire three of the newspaper’s most uncompromising journalists, Kamran Khan, Amir Mateen and Rauf Klasra. Khan had recently reported that Sheikh Omar, the person behind the abduction of US journalist Daniel Pearl, may have been implicated in the attack on the Indian parliament the previous December. The Washington-based Mateen had reported that some of President Musharraf’s ministers were left in the dark for security reasons during the president’s recent trip to Washington. In a letter published in the newspaper Dawn, Sehbai explained his reasons for resigning: "I can quote numerous examples of how the media is managed, how journalists and reporters are intimidated, bribed, coerced and even physically ’handled.’ I remember all the ’night calls’ that I received to either stop a story, play it down..."
Sehbai went into exile in the United Sates, where he set up an online investigative news site, the South Asia Tribune. The military government, for its part, set about trying to silence him. Khalid Hijazi, a civilian employee at army headquarters and former husband of a cousin of Sehbai, filed a complaint on 21 August accusing Sehbai of an armed break-in at his home on 22 February 2001. Sehbai said the charge was a complete fabrication and reported that police raided the home of several relatives on 21 August. Uniformed men subsequently harassed family members. On 27 August, police in Rawalpindi arrested Sehbai’s uncle, Asif Khan, whose teenage son Imran Khan had beennamedas Sehbai’s accomplice in the alleged break-in. Accused of being under the influence of alcohol, Asif Khan was released on 29 August. Security service agents meanwhile pressured the country’s main newspapers not to report this case.
At a meeting with newspaper editors in Karachi a few days later, President Musharraf complained that the country’s interests were being forgotten by journalists, especially a journalist in exile in the United States. He later repeated this charge at a press conference in New York. Sehbai’s teenage cousin Imran Khan was arrested in early September and held for six weeks before being released on bail. On 16 October, it was the turn of Sehbai’s brother-in-law Mansoor Ahmed to be arrested by police. Ahmed’s wife gave a press conference a few days later to denounce this harassment by the security services. Military personnel in civilian dress tried to disrupt the news conference, while the journalists who organised it were threatened by security service agents. The campaign of intimidation against Sehbai’s family was criticised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on 28 October.
On 9 March, the authorities barred journalists from attending the trial of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s husband Asif Zardari on corruption charges before a court in Attock (west of Islamabad).
On 17 March, the premises of the local daily Halcha in the southern town of Badah were destroyed in a fire started by thugs. The Badah press club threatened protests if those responsible were not arrested.
Cable operators promised to block the broadcasting of foreign programmes deemed "indecent" at a meeting with the newly-formed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on 26 March. The official news agency said there had been many complaints about programmes violating Pakistan’s "social norms and cultural values."
On 27 March, the government banned a meeting on freedom of information that was to have been held in Islamabad by the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan and the British Council. The authorities said it was going to be a political rally.
The authorities in the western district of Abbottabad cut off water and electricity to its press club without warning on 1 April. Club members said this was a reprisal for reports criticising the local government. An official had previously warned that Abbottabad’s journalists were "ignoring the local government’s positive aspects and focussing on its faults."
At a press conference on 1 May, information minister Nisar Memon took issue with the national and international press coverage of the presidential referendum, in which Gen. Musharraf won more than 97 per cent of votes. The press reports of irregularities during the polling were "inappropriate and exaggerated," he said. He also questioned the objectivity of the reports issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
On 24 May, several Pakistani newspapers published a letter addressed to journalists in the southwestern city of Chaman (near the Afghan border) which supposedly came from the former Afghan leader Mullah Omar and which said he and Osama bin Laden were alive and safe. The letter threatened journalists who did not publish it. Abdul Ghani Attar, the general secretary of the Chaman press club and one of the letter’s recipients, accused certain members of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, a Pakistani party allied with the Taliban, of trying to manipulate the press. A number of journalists were also alleged to be involved in circulating the letter, suggesting that Mullah Omah had influence in this part of Pakistan. A few days later, journalists and news agencies based in Chaman received new letters and phone calls threatening them with reprisals if they continued to "work for the United States." According to the police, journalists were warned that if they helped the authorities locate the fugitive Taliban leaders, they could suffer the same fate as US journalist Daniel Pearl, executed in Karachi.
The authorities closed the Urdu-language tabloids Morning Special and Evening Special on 18 July in the southern city of Karachi and arrested their editors because they published the photos of two sisters and erroneously identified them as prostitutes, which led their father to kill himself. The two newspapers had already been threatened with closure for carrying photographs of nudes and reporting sex scandals. The editors were released a few days later and the newspapers were allowed to resume publishing on 1 August.
Police charged ten journalists with libel, including the editors of the dailies Taneer-i-Sindh, Kawish, Koshish, Sindh and Sindhoo, on 25 July in the southern city of Hyderabad in response to a complaint by a former education minister of Sindh province about reports quoting two women who claimed they were sexually abused by his two sons. Police arrested the two women, but not any journalist.
The interior ministry office in Gilgit in the province of Northern Areas summoned Imtiaz Ali Taj of the news agency Pakistan Press International and Manzar Hasan Shigri of the Online News Agency for questioning on 7 August. They were taken to task for reporting that the authorities had refused to allow around 1,000 inhabitants of this part of Pakistani Kashmir to go to China.
On 31 August, the military government approved the texts of proposed ordinances (decrees) on defamation, the press council and the registration of newspapers and news agencies, eliciting the unanimous condemnation of Pakistan’s news media, which until then had not been told what was in these new laws. The All-Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) protested that the government had broken undertakings given to the APNS and CPNE on 23 July that there would be no government-appointed members on the press council and that the fines for defamation would not exceed 800 euros. Under the texts finally adopted, the government named several of the new press council’s members including the chairman, the punishment for defamation set a minimum penalty of 800 euros in damages or a prison sentence, and the offences punishable under the defamation law were borrowed from an old press code banning affronts to "friendly countries" and "decency," the vaguest of concepts.
At the end of September, the non-governmental organisation Liberal Forum released initial findings from its monitoring of the news media in the campaign for the October elections. It found that the state-run radio and television was giving more air-time to the pro-government party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), than to the two former ruling parties combined. The PML-Q or "King’s party," as it was called by the press, got a total of 15 minutes between 10 and 23 September, against fewer than six minutes for Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. The coalition of fundamentalist parties came second in air-time. President Musharraf told his information minister at the end of November that he appreciated the state-owned PTV’s performance during the elections.
The Pakistani government restricted the access of foreign journalists to the Tribal Areas adjoining Afghanistan for reasons of "security" in September. Foreign journalists henceforth needed a security clearance from the Pakistani army, and any film or video footage shot there had to be viewed by intelligence officers before it could be broadcast. The authorities accused certain foreign and Pakistani news media of "biased" reporting of the situation in the Tribal Areas. Previously foreign journalists just needed permission from the information office of the authority that administers the Tribal Areas. The new measures coincided with a new army deployment into the region to contain infiltration by al-Qaeda or Taliban members.
The defamation ordinance, upping the penalties for journalists and editors found guilty of defamation to a minimum of 50,000 rupees (850 euros) in damages or three months in prison, was signed into law by President Musharraf on 1 October. The ordinance said "publication or circulation of a false statement or representation made orally or in written or visual form which injures the reputation of a person... shall be actionable as defamation." It gave injured parties two months to file complaints, which were to be tried before a district judge with the possibility of appeal to the high court. This controversial law was enacted against strong opposition from news media owners and journalists. Hameed Haroon, president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), said it was unacceptable and accused the government of trying to put an end to press freedom. In response to criticism from Reporters Without Borders, an information ministry official insisted that the law was the "result of a consensus" and that the government expected the press to be "responsible."
Police seized a clandestine FM transmitter on 8 October in the Bajaur Agency section of the northwestern Tribal Areas, arresting eight persons. According to the daily Dawn, the radio station was operated by a religious organisation that was supporting fundamentalist candidates in the national and provincial elections. The authorities had previously seized clandestine radio equipment in the Bajaur Agency area in 2001, when the US military were engaged in an offensive against the Taliban.
Police raided the home of Daily Pakistan correspondent Mohsin Abbas in the eastern city of Sialkot on 8 October, seeking to arrest him because he had reported that police were unable to maintain order in the province of Punjab, bordering India. The police had registered a complaint that Abbas had himself thereby jeopardised public order in the province. He was not at home and avoided arrest.
Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties that came third in the October elections, accused state-owned television broadcaster PTV on 21 October of using western standards instead of those of Pakistani culture. At a press conference, MMA spokesperson Malik Mohammad Azam condemned PTV for dropping the evening call to prayer from its programming and called for its immediate reinstatement. He also said the veil should be obligatory for all women appearing on TV. It was the duty of the state-run media to promote Islamic culture and the traditional rites and customs, he maintained. Before the military seized power in 1999, a strict TV code required all women to wear a head-scarf when on camera. The MMA also criticised cable television, which has mushroomed since the military takeover, with six major operators now serving between 4 million and 5 million Pakistani home and carrying international channels. MMA leaders had said they wanted to stop the spread of western influence by cable TV during the election campaign, especially when speaking in the conservative Peshawar region. One of the MMA’s spokespersons, Ameer-ul-Azeem, said Pakistan should follow the Iranian model for control of TV and cinema.
On 26 October, President Musharraf signed into law the ordinance creating a 19-member press council with the job of ensuring that newspapers and news agencies respect the "highest professional and ethical standards" while preserving the freedom of the press .The council was to enforce a new, 17-point "ethical code of practice" for the print media, hold enquiries into complaints, and recommend the suspension or even permanent closure of publications that refused to comply with its decisions. The council’s chairman was to be a retired judge chosen by the president. Of the other 18 members, four were to be named by the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), four by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and four by journalists’ professional associations. One was to be named by the house leader in parliament, one by the parliamentary opposition leader, one by the higher education committee, one by the national commission on the status of women, one was to be a mass media educationist and one place was reserved for the Pakistan bar council. Decisions were to be taken by majority.
The information ministry put an announcement in Pakistan’s main newspapers on 2 November warning news media they could be prosecuted under the defamation ordinance of 1 October if they picked up reports from the South Asia Tribune, the Washington-based online newspaper created by former The News editor Shaheen Sehbai in July after going to live in the United States. Some Pakistani journalists had been quoting from Sehbai’s news site, which ran exclusives about corruption and human rights violations by the military government. The announcement did not mention Sehbai or his online newspaper by name, but referred to "stories and reports placed on a website originating from outside the country [that are] concoctions and fabrications targeted to malign the government of Pakistan and its senior functionaries." Sehbai and his family themselves became the target of a campaign of harassment after he went into exile in March (see above).



americas countries list
01. Introduction Asia and Pacific
02. Update Asia
Afghanistan
Australia
Bangladesh
Bhutan
Brunei
Burma
Cambodia
China
East Timor
Fiji
India
Indonesia
Japan
Kiribati
Laos
Malaysia
Maldives
Mongolia
Nepal
New Zealand
North Korea
Papua-New-Guinea
Philippines
Singapore
Solomon Islands
South Korea
Sri Lanka
Taïwan
Thailand
Tonga
Vietnam

see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Americas Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report