Armed men storm newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan
On January 1, over thirty armed men belonging to a political party, Sindh Nationalist Front (SNF), stormed into the offices of Sindhi language daily “Awami Awaz” and threatened its staff with dire consequences.
The intruders who were led by Anwar Gujjar, Media Coordinator, of SNF held the staff hostage for about half an hour and inquired about the whereabouts of newspaper’s Chief Editor, Jabbar Khattak, who was not present in the office at that time.
According to Awami Awaz, the intruders said they had been sent by Mumtaz Bhutto, Chairman of SNF to warn that the newspaper would not be allowed to be circulated in the province of Sindh, if it did not “mend its ways”. They reminded the staff that the SNF had in previous years broken the legs of its reporter belonging and had burned copies of the newspaper. They boasted that they had taught a “similar lesson” to even large newspapers such as “Dawn” and “Jang”, but authorities had not dared to take any action against them. They said the newspaper was not stronger than their leader Mumtaz Bhutto.
They used abusive language against. Khattak and said he had been warned to behave but it seems that he did not get the message clearly. They said they knew other ways of getting their message across and that this is just a taste of things to come. They warned that the newspaper should be ready to face “extreme consequences”.
Talking to PPF, Khattak said SNF had been exerting pressure on the newspaper for some time to publish their statements without editing. Khattak made it clear to SNF that the newspaper could not surrender its right to select and edit statements that it deemed suitable for publication. The immediate cause of the showdown seemed to be the result of “Awami Awaz” ignoring the ultimatum given by SNF to publish an article by Bhutto, without editing on the occasion of the death anniversary of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27. He said he had been advised that there may be threats to his life and had been offered police guards.
The SNF denied any aggressive behavior by their workers and said they had gone to the offices of the newspaper to record their protest against unfair coverage of their leader. Newspaper publishers present at the emergency meeting of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) chaired by its President Hameed Haroon rejected the assertion of SNF and said it was unacceptable to send dozens of armed men to record a protest.
The APNS meeting said act of violence and hooliganism by SNF was a serious attack on press freedom, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The meeting urged the government to take cognizance of the alarming situation and register a criminal case and take strict action against the culprits. The meeting also urged President and Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Chief Minister of Sindh to ensure the security and protection to publishers, staff member and tier premises.
The meeting also empowered the APNS Human Rights Commissioner Owais Aslam Ali, to prepare an investigation report in the matter and to monitor acts of violence, harassment and intimidations against the media and to take action in liaison with Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC), international press bodies and human rights organizations. The members of APNS also decided to take legal recourse against hooligans and initiate other measures to safeguard and secure press freedom in the country.
Source: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)