Dawn Group resents raid by army team -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Dawn Group resents raid by army team

KARACHI- The management of the Dawn Group of Newspapers issued the following press release:

The management of the Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt) Ltd, the publishers of Dawn, the Star, Herald, Spider and Aurora have protested at the strong arm tactics by which an army monitoring team consisting of six armed forces personnel, fully armed, accompanied by three engineers of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation and a professed representative of the Electrical Inspector, Government of Sindh, arrived this morning, without prior notice, at the headquarters of the Dawn Group of Newspapers at Haroon House, Karachi.

The contingent of the army monitoring team and the KESC engineers insisted on an immediate inspection and testing of “all the existing electric installations”, armed with a notice presented to Dawn under the Electricity Act, 1910.

This team, backed by armed army personnel, threatened with the immediate disconnection of the electric supply to the press and the consequential stoppage of all newspaper printing and publishing activities in the Pakistan’s largest independent English newspaper and magazines publishing house, if immediate access to Dawn was not allowed.

The inspection team demanded immediate entry and access to all floors of the publishing establishment, particularly publishers, editors and journalists’ offices, satellite communication rooms and secured areas where sensitive pre-press and printing technology effects the daily printing of Dawn and its sister publications.

The army inspection team categorically refused to allow its military personnel to display security identification procedures which have been enforced in Dawn’s headquarters since the bomb blasts over a year ago, when journalists and press workers’ lives had been threatened by as yet unidentified terrorist groups.

The military officer in charge, however, allowed the KESC personnel to follow Dawn’s security rules, but did not deposit his own arms and that of his military colleagues at the security gates as laid down in Dawn’s security procedures. He also warned press photographers against taking of photographs of the inspection, stating “this was a secret operation ordered by the higher ups and that no photographs were to be published in the DAWN Group of Newspapers.”

After a grueling four hours inspection process, the army monitoring team prepared a statement and ordered the management representatives present to sign it immediately. Although the “secret” statement virtually cleared the Dawn’s headquarters of any charges arising out as a consequence of the raid, the representatives of the Dawn management refused to sign the statement on the grounds that duress was being applied by the army monitoring team, particularly since nothing untoward had been discovered. The Dawn management representatives also stated that they found no reason to sign an army monitoring team-cum-KESC report.

A compromise was effected whereby one of the legal advisers of the DAWN Group from the partnership of Muneer A. Malik & Co., signed the document without prejudice to any future observations that Dawn or its legal advisers might wish to make with respect to the “findings” of the document.

Dawn representatives did protest that electricity load calculations of the consumption of the DAWN Group headquarters at Karachi were way off the mark due to the presence of a large 750kva generator in the headquarters and also due to multiple 24hour shifting when office and journalists establishments were not necessarily working simultaneously.

In a significant development, a DAWN spokesman has stated that the “Combing Operation Proforma” filled by a Team FBA, Sub-team M of the Army Monitoring Team has provided a virtual clearance to the DAWN Group on every single one of the 18 listed indicators in the “Observation/Discrepancy” Section of the pro forma.

“Short of listing televisions, refrigerators and electric kettle consumption loads, the army monitoring team showed no remorse at the harassment of an organization that pays over Rs l0 million of dues annually and one that has never defaulted on payments, it is surprising that the army monitoring team and their counterparts in the KESC did not find any more significant defaulting customer, or alleged electricity thief than the country’s leading English language newspaper group – unless, ‘something other’ than a mere electricity inspection was the purpose of this manoeuvre”, the DAWN spokesman stated. “The highhanded manner in which the inspection by the army monitoring team was carried out left an indelible impression that a punitive raid rather than an electrical inspection was the basic objective of the operation.

The unwarranted intrusion of armed personnel onto the premises of DAWN gave rise to the distinct speculation that a threatening posture had been adopted by the authorities on the pretext of an unfruitful electricity inspection. No apparent wrongdoing was either noted or observed by the representatives of the KESC or the Military,” the DAWN spokesman continued.

“It is very difficult for governments to live with an independent press in Pakistan. Of late, the present administration has become increasingly hostile towards any criticism whatsoever in the press, and this hostility has manifested itself under various guises in particular, with respect to the DAWN Group of Newspapers. The presence of armed army personnel however, in this kind of operation is unprecedented. Perhaps this is the administration’s way of indicating what lies ahead for the remnants of a besieged free press in Pakistan,” the DAWN management spokesman added.

“There have been sufficient warnings over the last few days, both direct and indirect, to publishers, editors and journalists of the DAWN Group that the authorities were preparing for something ‘significant’. In particular, the government has strongly protested with respect to the writings of a senior DAWN journalist who had earlier commented in a despatch from New York that the administration of Chief Executive Musharraf was preparing to initiate a new round of repressive measures against the free press. Recent legal notices sent to DAWN by the regime’s Minster of Information and a senior official of the Ministry of Information in Islamabad, not to mention the watering down of a proposed Freedom of Information Act draft, have served as major indicators of a new press strategy being pursued by the present administration. The independent policies followed by DAWN and its sister publications may well prove to be the first target of such repressive measures. No other newspaper has been a recipient of a similar aggressive armed ‘electricity inspection’, such as the DAWN Group has witnessed in the last 24 hours”, the spokesman concluded.

A report is being released for distribution tomorrow by the DAWN Establishment to various human rights and civil rights organizations both nationwide and internationally. It is also expected that a strong protest is to he lodged by the DAWN Group with both the military and the civilian authorities in Islamabad and Karachi.

Source: Dawn