Media not free in Pakistan, says HRW -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media not free in Pakistan, says HRW

ISLAMABAD, Dec 5: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has termed Pakistan an undemocratic country where freedom of expression is not guaranteed and the media is hostage to the officialdom with cases of arrests, intimidation and harassment.

Moreover, the HRW accused the US and the Karzai governments of pushing Afghanistan into anarchy with very little progress made in all fields since the ouster of the Taliban and giving away the keys of the kingdom to warlords.

During a briefing here the spokesman of the Asia division of HRW, John Stifton, rejected the claims of the Minister for Information, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, that the media in Pakistan was free. Mr Stifton said: “I think what Rashid Ahmed said yesterday in response to our allegations was completely false. He said yesterday that there was freedom of expression, there were no problems. He painted a picture of things being good. Our information is the complete opposite.”

He said it is a well-documented fact by the HRW that many journalists have been arrested and intimidated in Pakistan over the last four years under various charges. He said while rejecting the claims of the HRW, the minister did not say anything about the phenomenon of self-censorship.

Talking about the threat issued by President Musharraf to Pakistani publications in the presence of editors, the HRW spokesperson said there were many witnesses to what the president said.

Responding to the denial of the incident by the minister for information, Mr Stifton said: “They can deny what they want. To say that no journalist has been threatened and the situation is fine, the minister is either misinformed or he is lying. And, I think, he is misinformed.”

Answering a question about content analysis of Pakistani newspapers, the HRW spokesman said the newspapers appear to be practising self-censorship. “The newspapers feel it necessary to publish official news. And you can see the front pages of the newspapers lack the critical articles. I can’t describe the mental processes of the editors so I don’t know what they think but it appears that they are either afraid or they are trying to appease the government.”

Challenging the democratic credentials of the government, the HRW spokesperson said election of the president through a referendum with only one candidate is not a legitimate forum for a population to exercise its political will. He said there were examples of generals running the democratic countries but only after they were no more serving generals.Talking about the state of progress achieved in Afghanistan during the last two years, the HRW spokesman said the ouster of the Taliban has been the only improvement since then.

He said the two years since the ouster of the Taliban has been a case of missed opportunities by the US, the UN, the NATO and the Karzai government to strengthen the civic society and weaken the military commanders.

“The US and the Karzai government have given the keys of the kingdom to the warlords,” he said. Answering a question about the US forces and their ability to control the situation, Mr Stifton said the local forces committed the crimes of extortion, intimidation and hostage taking in the presence of US forces who just stand by.

About the state of media in Afghanistan, the HRW spokesperson said there is hardly any free press outside Kabul. Even those who speak openly have the support of the UN, the US or the Canadians.

Challenging the claims of President Hamid Karzai that situation in Afghanistan was better than two years ago, the HRW spokesman said it had got worse in certain places.

Source: Dawn
Date:12/6/2003