Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) seeks Chief Executive’s (CE’s) assurance on freedom of press
ISLAMABAD- Saying that there are ominous signals that the Pakistan press may be coming under threat, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called upon the Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf to reaffirm his “professed commitment to respect media freedom” in a public statement.
In a statement faxed to the army headquarters office of the CE, following incident at Dawn’s offices in Karachi, the director of the New York-based CPJ, Anne Cooper, said, “CPJ hopes that your administration will not use its formidable powers to control the press, as previous military regimes have done.” In the statement, she said the CPJ was concerned over the threatening posture adopted by an army inspection team sent to the headquarters of the Dawn Group of Newspapers at Haroon House in Karachi. The newspaper group includes some of Pakistan’s most influential and respected publications, including the English-language daily Dawn.
The following is the text of the statement issued by CPJ: Gen Pervez Musharraf Chief Executive, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, General Headquarters, Pakistani Army Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Via Facsimile: 92-51-922-4206
The Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ) is concerned by the threatening posture adopted by an army inspection team sent yesterday to the headquarters of the Dawn Group of Newspapers at Haroon House in Karachi. The newspaper group includes some of Pakistan’s most influential and respected publitations, including the English language daily Dawn.
At around 10am on September 7, six military personnel arrived at the Dawn Group offices, along with a representative of the provincial electrical inspector and three engineers from the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC). The officers insisted on carrying their weapons, despite Dawn’s security requirements, and threatened to disconnect the buildings electrical supply if they were not granted immediate access to all parts of the premises.
Though the involvement of the armed forces in electrical inspections has become routine in Pakistan – the practice began under the civilian administration of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – journalists at Dawn told CPJ that this inspection appeared to be an effort to harass and intimidate the staff.
According to a statement published in Dawn: “The high-handed manner in which the inspection by the army monitoring team was carried out left the indelible impression that a punitive raid rather than an electrical inspection was the basic objective of the operation.”
The statement noted that the timing of the inspection was specially suspicious: “There have been sufficient warnings over, the last few days to publishers, editors, and journalists of the Dawn Group that the authorities were preparing for something ‘significant.'”
Dawn journalists told CPJ that administration officials were particularly angered by a September 12 Dawn article entitled “Free Press: Is Musharraf Having Second Thoughts?” In the article, senior correspondent Shaheen Sehbai noted that Your Excellency, on a recent visit to the United States, had exhibited a “growing impatience with the Pakistani press … [complaining that] it was irresponsible, corrupt, unpatriotic at times, and not pursuing healthy journalism.”
On September 19, Dawn received a letter from Javed Jabbar, minister of information and media development in Your Excellency’s government. In the letter, Jabbar claimed that Sehbai’s article contained malicious and defamatory accusations against officials in the information ministry. He threatened legal action if the newspaper did not print a clarification.
Editors and reporters at Dawn say that in recent months they have received many more anonymous letters and phone calls than usual, accusing the newspaper of publishing material that is against Pakistan’s national interests.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is troubled by these ominous signals that the Pakistani press may be coming under threat. Accordingly, we urge Your Excellency to issue a public statement reaffirming your professed commitment to respect media freedom. In the absence of constitutional protections and democratic safeguards, journalists in Pakistan are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary abuses of state power. CPJ hopes that your administration will not use its fortnidable powers to control the press, as previous military regimes have done.
The Pakistan journalists based in the United States have, in a statement, condemned the raid on Dawn. “We have been shocked to learn about the surprise raid by the army on Dawn. This comes in blatant negation of all the assurances and public commitments made repeatedly by the Chief Executive until recently. It confirms the worst fears voiced by senior journalists during the Chief Executive’s US visit that his govemment was poised for a crackdown to stifle press freedom. The action brings into serious question the sanctity and credibility of Gen Musharrafs spoken word.
“The high-handed manner in which the army team raided the Karachi head offices of Dawn Sept 27 says much more than any number of diplomatic and politically-phrased words coming from top government leaders. It is clear that the press in Pakistan, as explained by the statement issued by the Dawn management, is now under siege. The government has launched the much expected crackdown on Dawn so that other newspaper groups would be intimidated and stopped thinking about challenging the military government.
“The army raid on Dawn was carried out on the pretence of checking electricity meters, a ploy often used by previous governments to intimidate those who dare to dissent or criticize. The Karachi Electric Supply Company has explained that the raid was to check illegal connections. Why only Dawn has been singled out is obvious. The Chief Executive’s verbal assault against newsmen in New York appears to have emboldened others in the administration. His information minister later issued legal notices to Dawn journalists and management. We condemn in strong terms the offensive launched against an independent newspaper.
“It is unfortunate that nobody learns a lesson from history. Last year the previous government had inflicted shame and isolation on the country by its brazen attacks on the Jang Group, The Friday Time, and other prominent newsmen and newspapers. The campaign unleashed by the present government against the press would further undermining Pakistan’s global image.” The statement was signed by M Afzal Khan (The Nation), Tahir Mirza (Dawn), Amir Mateen (The News), Dr Manzur Ejaz (The Nation and Pakistan Post), Zahid Ghani (NNI), Ahmed Shakil Mian (Takbeer and Urdu Times), Masood Haider (Dawn), Huma Ali (Sun), Shaheen Sehbai (Dawn).