Report on attacks on the Media in 1996 by Owais Aslam Ali
Pakistani journalists had to face many extreme forms of pressure during 1996. In addition to harassment from official quarters, journalists were made the target of violent attacks by political and religious organisations. Rural journalists remained especially vulnerable to violence by local officials and feudal lords.
A few of the more serious incidents involving journalists briefly described in this report demonstrate the threats they have to face in reporting stories which can anger powerful individuals and groups. The report also illustrates the determination of Pakistani journalists to report instances of injustice at great risk to themselves.
Violence against Journalists
There were numerous cases of assaults on journalists, especially in the rural areas. Often, instead of providing protection to journalists, police in rural areas collude with local officials and feudal lords who want to punish journalists for exposing corruption and human rights abuses.
Mumtaz Shar, a correspondent for the Sindhi-language daily Bakhtawar based in Jhol, was kidnapped by several persons on March 3, 1996, at the behest of local landlord Mohammad Ahmed Kheerio. Mr. Shar was taken to a nearby village where he was chained and his head, eyebrows and moustache were shaved. He was later stripped, lashed and raped by Kheerio and six of his men.
Mr. Shar was kidnapped because a letter from female students of a government high school in Jhol was published in Bakhtawar. The letter contained allegations against the school’s assistant headmistress, who happened to be Kheerio’s wife.
The then chief minister of Sindh, Abdullah Shah, promised an investigation into the incident, and gave the assurance that those found guilty would be punished. However, the police refused to register the criminal complaint or first information report (FIR) against the landlord. Mr. Shar was not provided any protection and had to take refuge in the Hyderabad Press Club.
Monis Bokhari, correspondent for the daily Sindh in Dokri, Sindh, was subjected to violence because he had reported the seizure and illegal cutting of trees on public land by Nazeer Bhugio, the then member of the provincial assembly (MPA) from Larkana.
The MPA’s men first tried to strangle Mr. Bokhari and to throw him from the roof of a bus. The attackers later filed false charges against the journalist. Mr. Bokhari was picked up by police on February 11, 1996, and taken to the house of Bhugio’s brother where he was subjected to a severe beating. Mr. Bokhari claims he was also deprived of Rs. 60,000. He was later taken to police lock up, where he was found lying injured by Dokri journalists who went to search for him.
Local journalists who tried to lead a procession to protest the harassment of Mr. Bokhari were attacked by 30 men armed with sophisticated weapons, pistols, sticks and axes. The attack took place in the presence of police. Five journalists — Ramzan Junejo of Kawish, Asghar Mangreo of Sindh,
president of the Dokri Press Club, Babu Ghulam Sarwar Siyal, general secretary Qazi Abdul Wahab, and press secretary Ahmed Ali Soomro — were injured in the attack and had to be taken to hospital. The condition of Mr. Junejo was described as serious.
Instead of taking action against the attackers, The police registered cases against the protesting journalists, including the five who were injured.
The general-secretary of the press club in the town of Mithi, Khatao Jani, was arrested in early January 1996, after an argument with a police official. Mr. Jani was released on the intervention of the subdivisional magistrate. Later, a delegation of the press club called on the local member of the national assembly (MNA) to inform him of the incident, but instead of listening to their complaints, the MNA became hostile and abusive towards them.
The journalists then decided to organise a token hunger strike on January 8, 1996, which further angered the MNA, and soon after the journalists set up a protest camp, armed men, under the supervision of the MNA, attacked them. The attackers, armed with sticks and iron rods, injured six journalists, three of them seriously.
Gulzar Hussain Warraich, editor of a local weekly and correspondent of the daily Pakistan in Uch Sharif in Punjab, was brutally attacked by drug dealers on September 10, for publishing news against them. Local correspondents of national newspapers and news agencies, and editors of local dailies and weeklies later held a joint meeting to condemn the attack. They called for the arrest of those responsible, saying that, if no arrests were made, they would boycott coverage of the local administration. The police later arrested six suspects on charges of assault.
On October 20, in Naukot, Sindh, Allah Wasayo Holipoto, correspondent of the daily Kawish, was assaulted by Allah Bachayo Aseer, president of the local branch of the then ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) because of an article that disclosed incidences of embezzlement involving the local Zakat and Usher Fund. Aseer was then chairman of the Zakat and Usher Committee.
Harassment by Police
Many journalists were also targets of harassment at the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Police routinely attack journalists covering civic disturbances and other emergencies.
For example, Karachi police attacked several reporters and photographers on September 20, snatching and smashing their cameras. The journalists were covering the fatal shooting of Murtaza Bhutto, the estranged brother of the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and his six colleagues in an encounter with the police.
Journalists who tried to reach the hospital where Murtaza Bhutto had been taken in critical condition, were beaten by the policemen. According to a report in Dawn, a senior police officer ordered his men to “catch the bastards. Make sure not one of them can run. Snatch their cameras and everything.” According to a report in The News, one of the police officers ordered his forces to open fire at journalists should they ignore his orders.
Two photographers were assaulted by police officers in Karachi on May 27. Shoaib Ahmed of the Urdu-language daily Jang and Saeed Qureshi of the Urdu daily Awam, covering a religious procession commemorating the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain, were ordered by the police to leave. When the photographers produced their identity cards the police officers started beating and abusing them and damaged their cameras. The journalists had to be taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
There were also instances where police tried to stifle unfavourable news coverage. on July 5, the senior superintendent of police (SSP) in Dadu warned journalists not to report the demolition of a petrol pump belonging to the grandson of the Sindhi nationalist leader G.M. Syed. The SSP threatened journalists that criminal cases would be brought against them and they would face grave consequences if they continued their coverage. The journalists, however, did not give in to the threats and members of the Dadu press club observed a news blackout on July 8, to protest against police threats.
In July, jail authorities in Hyderabad, Sindh registered criminal charges against M. H. Khan, correspondent of Dawn, following publication of a story and photographs of prisoners in bar fetters and link fetters. Mr. Khan was charged with cheating, dishonesty and forging documents.
Attacks on News Organisations
There were a number of cases of attacks on newspaper offices.
Unidentified men ransacked the bureau office of The Muslim on December 3, in Peshawar. Four of the intruders held reporter Fakhr Alam and beat him on the head with iron rods, seriously injuring him. The others smashed typewriters, telex machines and furniture, and set them on fire.
The attackers were angry over a cartoon published in the newspaper. The cartoon was based on the news report that Musarrat Shaheen, an actress who is famous for revealing and suggestive dances, had announced that she would contest the elections against Fazalur Rehman, leader of the clerical Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI).
Unknown persons hurled a hand grenade at the offices of the Urdu daily Mashriq, Quetta, around midnight on December 5. The grenade damaged the roof, the press section and the computer room of the newspaper. Parked motorcycles and bicycles were also damaged. No one claimed responsibility for the attack..
Six vehicles were damaged when a powerful handmade bomb was thrown into the parking area of the Lahore television station. Fortunately there were no casualties.
Armed men attacked the office of the then state-owned daily Mashriq in Quetta, Baluchistan on April 24, 1996. According to press reports, ten masked men entered the offices of the daily and started verbally abusing and beating the staff working in the newsroom. Some entered the computer section and damaged computers and furniture. The chief executive of the newspaper, Syed Mumtaz Shah, said the attack was a backlash against a report that a leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) had been arrested from a brothel.
The office of the daily Ummat, Karachi, was raided in October and copies of the newspaper were burned. The office was attacked by activists of JUI for writing against the Taliban movement. After the attack, the paper continued to receive threatening phone calls.
The year ended inauspiciously for Peshawar journalists when armed workers of JUI and another religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), led by their local leaders and Afghan refugees, attacked the Peshawar Press Club on New Year’s Eve. The attackers barged into the premises and demanded that the journalists stop the music program that was being held after an annual dinner. When the journalists refused, the intruders disrupted the music program, manhandled journalists and fired weapons.
As a mark of protest, Peshawar journalists went on an indefinite hunger strike and announced a boycott of the news coverage of the two parties from January 3, 1997. Armed activists of the JI then attacked and injured Zubair Zia, president of the photographers association, and reporter Tariq Khattak for carrying a protest banner.
The journalists continued their boycott and hunger strike for seven days until the leaders of the parties tendered apologies, condemned the attack and promised to take disciplinary action against those responsible.
Detention of Journalists
Farhan Effendi, the Hyderabad correspondent of the Karachi-based daily Parcham, spent the entire year of 1996 in jail, because he worked for a paper that is considered to be the mouthpiece of the then opposition party, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM).
Mr. Effendi was picked up by paramilitary Rangers from his office on September 14, 1995, and charged with possession of a Klashinkov rifle and involvement in terrorist activities. There were serious doubts surrounding the legitimacy of the charges and the legal proceedings against Mr. Effendi. The journalist was being tried by the Suppression of Terrorist Activities (STA) court, which did not have the minimum safeguards for a fair trial. The arresting officer of the Rangers never appeared in court despite repeated summonses, and no independent witnesses were brought forward to testify. Dates for his trial were repeatedly set and postponed and his bail applications rejected.
According to news reports, Mr. Effendi, in spite of being seriously ill, was not provided with proper medical care. He had large boils on his body and journalists who visited him seriously feared for his health if he was not provided with proper medical treatment. He was taken to the Civil Hospital several times but each time he was made to sit in the prison van outside the hospital and was never allowed to be examined.
After the dismissal of the PPP government in November 1996 the caretaker government allowed the journalist to be admitted to hospital. On January 25, 1997, the caretaker chief minister of Sindh, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, visited the ailing journalist and ordered his release on a 30-day parole. After the caretaker government disbanded the special courts, the case of Farhan Effendi was transferred to a regular court, which granted him bail on February 22, 1997.
Zahid Ali Qaimkhani, correspondent of the Pakistan Press International (PPI) news agency and of two Sindhi-language newspapers, was victimised for exposing corruption of local officials and had to spend six months in jail. He was charged with setting fire to the local telephone exchange, on the complaint of its supervisor. Mr. Qaimkhani denied the charges and maintained that he had been falsely implicated because he had written about the illegal public telephone office (PCO) run by the complainant.
Mr. Qaimkhani was arrested on January 22, 1996, in Kandiaro but was freed on bail a few days later. In a letter dated January 31, 1996, the deputy commissioner of Naushehro Feroze had asked the telephone authorities to take disciplinary action against the complainant who had tried to “bring in politics in a personal quarrel and tried to excite political hatred.”
On July 23, however, the sessions court in Kandiaro sentenced Qaimkhani to five-and-a-half years imprisonment after finding him guilty of the arson attack. The court ignored a note written on July 10 by the district magistrate of Naushehro Feroze to the district public prosecutor, stating that an inquiry into the complaint revealed that Mr. Qaimkhani was not involved.
Mr. Qaimkhani filed an appeal and was acquitted by the Sindh High Court in January, 1997. The judge, Abdul Hameed Dogar, pointed out many flaws in the judgement of the lower court and said the prosecution had failed to prove the case against Mr. Qaimkhani.
The office of the daily Kasoti were raided by police on October 22, in a failed attempt to arrest the newspaper’s owner, Omar Shahzad. Kasoti had published an article claiming that the then chief minister of NWFP, Aftab Sherpao, was preparing to leave the country and had started transferring his bank accounts abroad, a charge denied by Mr. Sherpao.
The police, who claimed that Mr. Shahzad was wanted in a car theft case, instead arrested his three personal guards. Later, 14 other individuals, including two personal servants of Mr. Shahzad, a telephone operator, and a receptionist were arrested. The telephone lines of the newspaper’s printing press were disconnected and workers present were warned not to leave the building until the operation had ended.
Mukhtiar Burfat, president of Jamshoro Press Club and correspondent for the Sindhi-language dailies Awami Awaz of Karachi and Sindh of Hyderabad was abducted by armed persons on February 6, 1996. Police in Jamshoro denied having taken him into custody but his relatives claimed that two of Mr. Burfat’s abductors were in police uniform. After four days he was dropped off by a police vehicle at an isolated place in Jamshoro. Mr. Burfat’s family believes that he was kidnapped because of his news stories about corruption in THE Jamshoro railway police and other police agencies.
On July 12, Sheikh Aziz, edition-in-charge of the daily Dawn, Karachi, was picked up by law-enforcement personnel at 2:30 am as an office vehicle dropped him outside his house. He was detained at an interrogation centre and released later the same day. During the interrogation, Mr. Aziz was questioned about the whereabouts of an Iranian whom his interrogators claimed he knew. Before being released, he was driven in a jeep to the outskirts of Karachi in the company of several armed men.
On October 20, in Khuzdar, Baluchistan, Hyder Baloch, general secretary of the local union of journalists, was kept in illegal confinement for 36 hours by the local official in charge of the irrigation department. The officer was said to have been unhappy with the journalist’s reporting. The gas, electricity and water supply to Mr. Baloch’s house in Dera Murad Jamali were cut off and his family members were harassed.
Restrictions in Cyberspace
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the licensing authority for electronic services, has imposed a number of restrictions on the use of the Internet. Licenses to Internet service providers are being issued under the terms of a highly restrictive Telephone and Telegraph Act of 1885.
Under the terms of the licence agreement, users are prohibited from using any sort of data encryption and have to agree that their electronic communications may be monitored by government agencies.
The licence terms also prohibit the use of the Internet for voice transmission. Violation of this clause can lead to prosecution and termination of service without notice. Service providers also have to agree to use only the authorised means of communications provided by the government-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation (PTC) for all data communication. The purpose of these clauses is to protect the commercial interests of PTC.
Users of the electronic services have to submit copies of the national identity card (NIC) to service providers, while foreign nationals have to submit copies of their passports.
Service providers are also responsible for ensuring that the programs and information provided through electronic services do not “come into direct clash with accepted standards of morality and social values in Pakistan.”
In November, authorities censored and delayed incoming and outgoing e-mail messages passing through Paknet, the subsidiary of PTC. According to press reports, the censoring of e-mail was part of an attempt to catch hackers who had earlier broken into the Internet account of Air Chief Marshal
Farooq Feroz Khan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Personnel of intelligence agencies were reportedly posted in PTC offices to censor the e-mail messages.
The new government of Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has made a number of statements promising to respect freedom of the press. Given the volatile nature of politics in Pakistan, this pledge is likely to be tested in the months and years ahead. For democracy to take root in Pakistan there is a great need for increased tolerance by government authorities for opposing viewpoints. It is also essential that journalists, especially in rural areas, be provided protection against abuses by local officials, feudal lords and by religious and political groups.