Reporters Without Borders protested today at the Pakistan government’s blocking of access to the South Asia Tribune, a US-based investigative news website that campaigns for independent journalism in Asia. Editors of the site, which appears to have been blocked because of its criticism of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, have posted a new address to get round the ban.
The censorship move was a serious violation of press freedom and of the right of Pakistanis to diverse information and news, said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, noting that it had come after more than a year of harassment of the site’s founder and editor, exiled Pakistani journalist Shaheen Sehbai.
It was blocked by the Pakistani Telecommunications Company (PTCL) on 30 May, after which it could not be accessed from most places in the country. On 3 June, the editors replaced the old address (www.satribune.com) with a new one (anonymizer.com), using a proxy server.
Sehbai noted that the Washington-based site had recently carried articles criticising Musharraf, especially for his military backing for US forces. It has long attacked his government for human rights violations and has exposed corruption among the country’s leaders.
Sebhai, former editor of the Pakistani daily The News, resigned on 1 March 2002 at the insistence of the government, and went into exile in the United States, where he continued working as a journalist. His family, who remain in Pakistan, have been constantly harassed by the authorities. Last November, the government put an ad in the mainly country’s newspapers asking people not to look at the South Asia Tribune website and advising the media not to stop reproducing news that it carried.
The site, launched in July 2002, had more than 11 million visitors in its first 10 months and made a big impression on the Asian media scene.