Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) details ‘brutal tactics’ used by Nawaz against Press
ISLAMABAD: When the democratically elected leader, Nawaz Sharif, was deposited last October, a few independent journalists had “regretted his departure.”
Now, in a special report released on its website (www.cpj.org), the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-partisan, non-profit organisation dedicated to the defence of press freedom everywhere, details the “brutal tactics” used by the Nawaz Sharif administration to curb dissent, and explains why many journalists felt that democracy in Pakistan was “endangered” long before the take-over by the military.
The story of the Pakistani press over the past year, “is a tale of independent journalists in a very ‘flawed democracy continuing to publish in the face of oppressive tactics aimed at censoring and controlling the press.”
The report explains how, in a country in which the prime minister systematically undermined nearly all democratic institutions. He engineered the dismissal of the chief justice, forced a president to resign, compelled an army chief to step down, and packed the courts and bureaucracy with loyalists. Elements of the press remained vigorous and aggressive, sometimes providing the only check on what was becoming increasingly unbridled power.
Nawaz Sharif exerted control over much of the Pakistani press by rewarding journalists who heeded government demands while punishing those who did not toe the line. For example, the Jang Group came under intense pressure from the regime. The company was hit with crippling taxes; its newsprint supplies were blocked by the Nawaz government, and many of its senior reporters and editors were harassed and threatened by government agents.
“The government made an example of the Jang Group, demonstrating its power to bring a publishing giant to its knees, and then tried the same with Najam Sethi, editor of weekly ‘The Friday Times’. In May of 1999, Sethi was abducted from his home in the middle of the night, beaten, and held incommunicado for a week, then was finally released after being held nearly a month without charge,” the report said.
The government’s persecution of Sethi was “a signal” that it would not spare anyone. Sethi and his wife, Jugnu Mohsin publisher of ‘The Friday Times’, were honoured with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award last November.
The report says: “One of the most serious miscalculations of (Nawaz) Sharif’s career was that these actions drew attention to his autocratic tendencies. Over Time, press reports on the prime minister’s political errors, personal corruption, and abuses of power undermined his popular support.
“The question now is how the independent press will fare, having survived Sharif. Will it be cowed into submission under the military regime, or will it continue to call the powerful to account.”
Source: Business Recorder