As Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali arrived on an official visit to France, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today drew the French government’ attention to a campaign of intimidation since March against respected investigative journalist Amir Mir, who was fired as editor of the Weekly Independent as a result of pressure from President Pervez Musharraf.
In a letter to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the organisation urged him to intercede on Mir’s behalf during the Pakistani prime minister’s 8-9 December visit.
Unknown persons set fire to Mir’s car on 22 November and shots were fired outside his home in Lahore, in the eastern province of Punjab. The government denied any involvement in these incidents, although they followed a long series of threats and acts of harassment against Mir by senior military and civilian officials, including information minister Rasheed Ahmed and the head of military intelligence in Punjab, Arslan Ali Khan. Mir was also accused by Gen. Rashid Qureshi of being an "Indian agent" because of an article he wrote in the Indian magazine Outlook.
Now the deputy editor of the Herald, an English-language monthly, Mir told Reporters Without Borders he feared for his life: "I am now being conveyed friendly messages to leave Pakistan... I’ve already told my near and dear ones that if any harm is done to me, Gen. Musharraf should be directly held responsible... I am really concerned about the safety of my family."
Dozens of journalist demonstrated in support for Mir on 7 November in Islamabad.
The recent acts of intimidation came after President Musharraf told a meeting of leading newspaper editors on 20 November that the editors of the Herald and the monthly Newsline had not been invited because they published articles that damaged Pakistan’s international image.
In response to a question about the presence in Pakistan of Dawood Ibrahim, the reputed member of an Indian crime organisation, Musharraf said certain Pakistani newspapers published harmful reports that supported Indian allegations and therefore damaged Pakistan’s national interests. The August and November issues of the Herald carried investigative reports by Mir on this matter.
When he was still the Weekly Independent’s editor Mir publicly alleged on 18 March that he had received threats from the Punjab state security minister, a former head of Pakistan’s secret service, the ISI. Mir was forced to resign from this post on 13 June after several months of pressure to change his editorial line.
The Weekly Independent claimed that President Musharraf himself chaired a meeting in Lahore at which it was decided to take concrete measures against the magazine, including the withdrawal of all government and state sector advertising. Mir wrote in 12 June editorial that it was not easy to keep a newspaper going in a country where the army dominates politics and the security forces call newspaper editors and owners to tell them what they can and cannot publish.