Four newsmen held responsible | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Four newsmen held responsible

PESHAWAR- The managing editor and news editor, along with a sub-editor and composer of The Frontier Post have been held responsible for publication of the blasphemous letter in the daily by a Judicial Tribunal constituted by the government.

The one-man tribunal of Justice Qaim Jan Khan of the Peshawar High Court, according to a press note, the incident took place “due to sheer negligence, rather personal negligence, of the sub-editor as well as the general negligence of the other staff such as composer, news editor and, last of all, the managing editor.”

The judicial tribunal was set up by the NWFP government on the instruction of the federal government and given a week time to submit its findings. It took the tribunal almost three weeks to complete its work due to a delayed start, large number of witnesses and other factors. The report was presented to the Governor of NWFP, Lt Gen (retd) Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, and its copies sent to the federal cabinet and interior divisions.

The tribunal’s recommendations concerning implementation of the Seventh Wage Board Award to improve the financial conditions of working journalists and formation of a Press Council to act as a bridge between the newspaper employees and their employers and the government would be conveyed to the federal information and labour ministries for further action.

The publication of the blasphemous letter in the English language daily The Frontier Post on January 29 provoked violence in Peshawar and elsewhere in NWFP and prompted the government to seal the paper’s offices and printing press. The Frontier Post and its sister Urdu publication, Maidan, ceased publication due to the government action.

Protesters mostly belonging to religious groups subsequently set the daily’s printing press on fire. An alliance of religious parties demanded cancellation of the daily’s declaration and called for severe punishment under Blasphemy Law to those responsible for publication of the sacrilegious letter.

Seven staffers of The Frontier Post were booked under Section 295 C, also called Blasphemy Law, and other Sections such as 295 A and B/505 of the Pakistan Penal Code and 16 Maintenance of Public Order. Five of them – news editor Aftab Ahmad, chief reporter lmtiaz Hussain, features writer Kazi Ghulum Sarwar, sub-editor Munawar Mohsin and computer section in charge Wajeehul Hasan have been released on bail while Aftab Ahmad and Munawar Mohsin are still in jail. The authorities failed to arrest the paper’s managing editor Mahmood Afridi and joint editor Jawed Nazir.

While exonerating Imtiaz Hussain, KazL Ghulum Sarwar and Jawed Nazir, the tribunal has held Mahmood Afridi, Aftab Ahmad and Munawar Mohsin responsible for publication of the letter which was blasphemous and highly derogatory to Holy Prophet (Mohammad Peace be upon him). It is not clear if the tribunal was referring to computer section in charge Wageehul Hasan or an Afghan refugee who used to work on the computers in the paper while blaming the ‘composer’ for publication of the blasphemous letter.

The tribunal in its 17-page report singled out sub-editor Munawar Mohsin for committing the blunder by allowing the blasphemous letter to find space on the editorial pages of The Frontier Post. It said: “It is very much astonishing that a man like Munawar Mohsin Ali who had never worked on the editorial page, admittedly the most important page, was made to sit on the said desk/page. The said Munawar Mohsin mainly worked on Afghan Page and is admittedly a drug addict for the last ten years. He was discharged from the Government Mental Hospital, Peshawar, rather he himself ran away from the ward a couple of days before the publication of the said blasphemous letter.

In its findings, the tribunal made a special mention of the crippled financial position of The Frontier Post plus lack of professionalism and efficiency at the daily. Quoting some of the 24 witnesses who appeared before it, the tribunal pointed out that there was mismanagement in the newspaper and a single individual had to perform the duties of five to six persons. Beside, it accused the paper’s management of being negligent.

The tribunal’s three terms of reference were to probe the circumstances under which the blasphemous letter was published, find out the motive and suggest ways and means to prevent such sacrilegious acts by the print media in the name of freedom of the press in future.

Apart from negligence on the part of some of the paper’s staffers, the tribunal hasn’t mentioned any motive for publication of the blasphemous letter. It has, however, recommended improved working conditions for journalist through implementation of the Seventh Wage Board Award and formation of the Press Council as some of the necessary steps so that new papers could be managed professionally and recurrence of such incidents could be avoided.

Official sources said a copy of the tribunal’s findings had also been sent to the Frontier Police is also investigating the incident. They said the tribunal’s report would help the police in its work. They added that the findings of the tribunal and the police were almost identical.

Source: The News