Monitoring team raids Dawn offices -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Monitoring team raids Dawn offices

KARACHI -The management of the Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt) Ltd has protested at the joint raid of an army monitoring team, the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) and a representative of the Electrical Inspector, Government of Sindh, without prior notice, at the headquarters of the Dawn Group of Newspapers in Karachi.

Hameed Haroon, CEO, and Publisher of the Pakistan Herald Publications in a letter faxed to Arif Nizami, President, CPNE, drew its attention towards ‘worsening environment for the freedom of Press.’

Hameed Haroon in his letter said: “It is very exceedingly for governments to live with a free and independent Press in Pakistan. Of late, the present military administration has become increasingly hostile towards and criticism whatever in the Press. This hostility has manifested itself under various guises in particular, with respect to the Dawn Group of Newspapers, Pakistan largest independent English language newspaper and magazine publishing house.

There have been several 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 strongly protested against the writings of a senior Dawn journalist who had earlier commented in a despatch from New York that the administration of the Chief Executive of Pakistan, General 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 Minister of Information and a senior official of the Ministry of Information in Islamabad, not to mention the watering down of proposed Freedom of Information Act draft, served as major indicators of a new Press strategy being pursued by the present military regime. The independent policies followed by Dawn and its sister publications have proved to be the first target of such repressive measures.

On Wednesday, September 27, without any prior warning an Army Monitoring Team consisting of six armed army personnel, accompanied by three Engineers of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) and an alleged representative of the Electrical Inspector, Government of Sindh, arrived 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 of all equipment and meters on the premises. The notice handed over to the Dawn newspaper instructed the newspaper to ‘make necessary arrangement and to extend your cooperation for carrying out the Survey/Testing of the metering equipments by our Engineers’, under the Electricity Act of 1910.

This team backed by the armed army personnel threatened the immediate disconnection of the electric supply to the Press and the consequential stoppage of all newspaper printing and publishing activities of the Dawn Group, if immediate and complete access by armed personnel to Dawn was not allowed. Although the representative of the management of Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt) Ltd, the publishers of daily Dawn, the daily Star, and periodicals Herald, Spider and Aurora, protested against the strong arm tactics being used, the members of the inspection team demanded immediate entry and access to all floors of the publishing establishment, and of particular interest to them were the offices of the publishers, editors and journalists, the satellite communication rooms and secured where sensitive pre-Press and printing technology effects the daily printing of Dawn and its sister publications.

The Army Inspection Team also categorically refused to comply with the security procedures of Dawn, which had been enforced in Dawn’s headquarters since the terrorist bomb blasts over a year ago, when journalists and Press workers’ lives were threatened by as yet unidentified terrorist groups, although they allowed the accompanying KESC Engineers to observe Dawn’s security rules. They 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 gruelling 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 as a consequence of this operation, the representatives of the Dawn management refused to sign the statement on the grounds that duress was being applied by the Army Monitoring Team especially as nothing untoward had been uncovered. In particular the report prepared by the Engineer, cleared Dawn of any wrong doing in every single one of the 18 listed criteriors for billing discrepancies.

A compromise was affected whereby, one of the legal advisors of the Dawn Group signed the document without prejudice to any future observations that Dawn or its legal advisors might wish to make with respect to the ‘findings’ of the document.

Whilst even listing televisions, refrigerators and the electric kettles’ consumption loads, the Army Monitoring Team showed no remorse at the harassment of an organisation that pays over Rs 10 million of electricity dues annually from this one site alone (approximately US $150,000) 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’ then a mere electricity inspection was the purpose of this manoeuvre.

The high-handed 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 as 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 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 military 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 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 above incident needs to be looked into as it is likely to endanger the functioning of the free Press in Pakistan. Our colleagues in Press freedom organisations throughout the world, have always been of great source of moral inspiration and help in fighting previous attempts to muzzle the voice of a free Press. We urge you to extend your co-operation to us once again. It would be appreciated if you would address your concerns on this particular matter in separate communications to General Musharraf, the Chief Executive, Government of Pakistan Mr Irshad Hussan Khan, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Mr Javed Jabbar, Minister for Information and Broadcasting. Government of Pakistan, urging the administration to desist from repressive tactics in their efforts to curb the freedom of the Press in Pakistan.

Earlier, a Dawn spokesman said 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.

Source: The Nation
Date:9/29/2000