Pakistan Press Freedom Report 1998 by Owais Aslam Ali -
Pakistan Press Foundation

Pakistan Press Freedom Report 1998 by Owais Aslam Ali

Pakistani journalists and media organisations continued to be the target of violence and intimidation by police, local administration, political and religious groups.

A bomb exploded in the offices of the daily Dawn, Karachi, on July 9. The device planted in the lavatory on the first floor of the building went off at 1.05 p.m. However, no one was injured in the explosion. Half an hour earlier, another explosion took place near the head office of daily Dawn in which the device planted under a parked car exploded. The bomb disposal squad said the devices were locally assembled and each contained 200 grams of highly explosive charge with one to 15 minutes timer.

The statement released by Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt.) Ltd and publishers of Dawn Group of Newspapers said it was clear that the intention of the blast was to send a direct warning from political or terrorist forces to the journalists of Dawn, Herald and The Star to desist from the pursuance of independent editorial policies and from critical comment on the situation in the country.

The president of All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Majid Nizami strongly condemned the incident. He said the purpose of such blasts could be to prevent the newspaper, which had been exposing with courage the causes behind acts of sabotage and terrorism, from performing their duties and responsibilities in the larger interest of the press freedom.

On the morning of October 21, unidentified culprits ransacked the office of Daily Post International and Fortnightly Badbaan located in Islamabad.

Sohail Rana, the Chief Editor of Daily Post International and Fortnightly Badbaan alleged that the Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Islamabad and Station House Officer (SHO) Margalla police station masterminded the attack on his office in order to punish him for publishing a story on escalating crime rate in Islamabad.

Four unidentified men attempted to set ablaze the office of daily Jang, Hyderabad on July 15. They threw a number of plastic bags containing petrol inside the office after they failed to make their way into it as its iron door was locked.

The photographer of daily Awam, Akram Shahid, spotted them and raised the alarm. The culprits got panicky. Yet, they tried to throw matches on the office floor where the petrol was spilled.

However, Hamid Sheikh, closed another glass door of the office, leaving no room for damage. The culprits then fled.

On 26 September, Saeed Iqbal Hashmi chief reporter of the Peshawar-based Urdu language daily “Mashriq”, received death threats from Jamiat Ullema-I-Islam (JUI), a religious political party.

These threats seemed to be linked with the publication of two articles in Mashriq of September 14: “Sexual Harassment of Children: A Serious Social Problem,” which contained allegation of child abuse in the Madrassas or religious schools, and another article in which it was alleged that a city builder, Haji Ghulam Ali, who was also JUI’s General Secretary for the North West Frontier Province, was encroaching on the old Peshawar city wall. JUI activists were outraged saying it was a blatant attempt to defame religious schools.

A week after the article appeared, JUI supporters held a demonstration in Peshawar displaying placards calling for the murder of Hashmi, and also Ayaz Ali Shah, Mashriq’s chief editor, and Qaiser Butt, an editor at the paper.

October 12, the editor of Urdu daily Mashriq wrote to the office-bearers of APNS and CPNE to complain about the harassment of his paper and staff by the activists of JUI (F).

He noted that JUI (F) had not relented in its campaign against Mashriq despite an apology printed by the paper for publishing articles which were said to have hurt their feelings. He said that copies of his paper had been burnt and its circulation disrupted in different parts of NWFP.

Local clergy issued fatwas sentencing all three men to death, forcing Saeed Hashmi to go into hiding.

On December 17, two unidentified armed persons barged into his house looking for the journalist. They fled from the scene after the journalist’s father and younger brother screamed and brandished a gun in order to intimidate the intruders. Half an hour after the incident, Hashmi received a telephone call threatening to kill him at the first opportunity.

In a similar incident, two unidentified men shot Abdul Hafiz Hamid Azizi, an Afghan journalist based in Peshawar, working for the bilingual (Pashto and Darri) daily Sahaar and the Pashto-language daily Wahdat, on October 2. According to the journalist, the attack was connected with the publication of articles, following which he first received anonymous threatening messages. He was forced into hiding and family compelled to live in another house. According to Reporter’s Sans Frontieres (RSF) the journalist, whose only income is from his profession, is in a precarious financial situation.

On October 6, Najeeda Sara Bibi, 35, occasional resource person for BBC Pashto-Persian program “Educational Drama”, was also shot at by unidentified men as she was going to a local market in Peshawar. She was not hurt. The journalist, who also works on children’s and women’s programmes for Radio Pakistan and used to work for the daily Hewad, had received threats several times since she was stopped by six persons who asked her to give up her job three months earlier. She received a threatening letter on September 25, written on the letterhead of the Afghan interior ministry, while another dated October 4 was signed by Maulvi Muhammad Sarwar Mukhlis, reported to be the chief of the Taleban intelligence agency.

On August 17, Asif Khokar, bureau chief of the daily Insaf and Ch. Yaseen Saleemi correspondent of Pakistan Press International (PPI) news agency were fired upon by one of the accused involved. The firing injured one of the journalists and caused damage to their car. The journalists based at Pind Dadan Khan, in the Punjab province, had reported a gang rape of an 18-year-old orphan girl who was confined and repeatedly assaulted for six consecutive days.

On September 27, members of the Shiite political party ‘Tehrik e Jafaria Pakistan’ (TJP) attacked four photojournalists in Karachi, covering the funeral of the slain TJP leader and his son. After the funeral mourners became agitated and set buses and tires ablaze, as a result of which the Paramilitary Rangers started firing to disperse the crowd. The infuriated mob returned their fire, leaving two persons dead and 11 injured.

They were on their way to their newspaper offices after covering the incident, when they were stopped and surrounded by 20 to 25 TJP activists who seized and damaged their cameras and manhandled them to prevent the publication of photographs. The names of the injured journalists are Shoaib Ahmad of Jang, Riaz Shahid of Ibrat, Javed Jeayja of Kawish and Ashraf Memon of Qaumi Akhbar.

On August 16, twelve activists of the youth wing of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), attacked chief editor of the weekly inside the Chakwal Press Club for publishing an anti PML story. Khawaja Danial Salim, the chief editor of Dhan Kahoon was saved by other journalists present in the press club. After leaving the press club the activists marched on the city roads and burnt some copies of the weekly.

Journalists all over the country also had to contend with harassment and intimidation by the police.

On 19 January 1998, police raided the offices of the Urdu daily Pakistan and arrested the editor, chief news editor and four reporters of the newspaper on charges of publishing objectionable material in the 13 January edition of the newspaper.

Editor Jamil Chishti, chief news editor Khalid Farooqui, senior reporter Khalid Qayyum, reporters Arshad Ansari, Abbas Rauf, Ahsan Zia and three non-journalist employees of the daily were arrested and released the following day after they were granted bail by a division bench of Lahore High Court.

A case was registered against the author of the article, the editor, printer and the publisher of the newspaper, allegedly for publishing material that provided for “deliberate and malicious outraging of religious feelings”. The article in question was based on excerpts from a classic book, “Sada Bahar”, by Maulana Shibli Naumani. It contained passages which the government thought could further inflame already tense passions between the extremist wings of Shia and Suni organizations.

On January 20, the journalists were granted interim bail by the division bench of Lahore High Court, and they were released the same day. The court observed that prima facie, no substantial case was made out against them as the matter under question was based on an authentic book prescribed in postgraduate courses.

Ahmad Ali Khan, president of the CPNE, affirmed that nothing that the press might have written or reported could justify the use of violence. He also deplored the high handedness and humiliation to which the editors of Pakistan were subjected by police, adding that if the authorities had thought that the newspaper had published something illegal, they should have pursued the matter in a proper court of law.

On 27 January, the charges were withdrawn. The Punjab government, following directions from Shehbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister, also apologised for having handcuffed the journalists who had been arrested.

On June 21, M. Ismail Jatoi, a journalist working in Shikarpur, Sindh was beaten by police officials for taking photographs of a police officer while he was allegedly taking a bribe from a man, who had crushed a boy to death under his pick up truck. The policemen also smashed his camera.

The bureau chief of The News and a correspondent for the daily Dawn were abused, battered and thrust into a police van in Hyderabad, Sindh on July 19. Ansar Naqvi of The News and M. H. Khan of the daily Dawn were returning from the Phulleli Police station after obtaining information regarding a case involving the death of four persons after drinking illicit liquor, when they were signalled to stop. The police constable checked their identification cards and allowed them to go. But Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Salim Rind, in charge of the police picket, asked them to dismount from their motorbike and ordered his subordinate to deflate the tires of their motorbike. When the journalists protested the ASI slapped Ansar Naqvi. At this point M. H. Khan intervened to pacify the ASI, who had become totally out of control.

As news of the incident had reached the press club and newspapers offices, a number of photographers and journalists rushed to the scene and took photographs of the ASI. On 20 July, the SSP of Hyderabad suspended ASI Rind for beating the two journalists and ordered an inquiry into the incident.

On November 6, sports reporter of Dawn, Sami-ul Hasan, was manhandled, beaten and assaulted when he tried to confirm from the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) the complaints that ticket holders were denied entry to a cricket match being played in Karachi.

When pressed further, why ticket-holders were barred from entering the National Stadium, the DSP started abusing the reporter and later asked his men to throw him out of the stadium. The reporter suffered injuries to his head and other parts of the body. He was assaulted again when some police officials intervened to bring the reporter back into the stadium. He lost his mobile phone, wrist watch and gold chain in the scuffle.

The press corps covering the match was shocked and staged a sit-in before the main pavilion. The incident was brought to the notice of Governor Moinuddin Haider who was visiting the stadium. The governor launched an inquiry into the matter and also ordered filing of the First Information Report (FIR) against the policemen involved as well as against the DSP. However, as soon as the governor left the local administration attacked the protesting journalists and refused to let them go back to the press box. However, the commissioner of Karachi escorted journalists back to the press box and promised to take stern action against the police party.

The police in Karachi, claiming to be hunting for terrorists involved in the murders of an ex-governor and a senior editor, raided the houses of two senior journalists, Idrees Bakhtiar and Naseem Ahmed Saleemi; within a period of 48 hours.

On November 26 the residence of Idrees Bakhtiar, a senior staff reporter of Herald monthly and BBC correspondent, was raided by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at 1.45 a.m. According to Bakhtiar, the door of his house was forced open by about a dozen policemen and policewomen, majority of them in plainclothes. They held the 10 people at gunpoint for around 35 minutes. None of them responded to questions from the inmates and searched one room after the other including the rooftop. They ridiculed Idrees when he asked if they had search warrants.

They left his house, only to return within a matter of five to seven minutes taking Idrees’s eldest son, Moonis, to one of the armoured personnel carriers (APC) parked outside. They asked his son the whereabouts of Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Naushad; one of the prime suspects in the murder of assassinated ex-governor Sindh, Hakim Saeed.

They released Moonis after they received a message from the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Karachi who had been contacted by the journalist. The DIG, in a press note, denied that the house of the journalist was raided “deliberately or with malafide intentions.” The press note said a raid was conducted on a tip that ASI Naushad was hiding in one of the houses.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the incident personally hurt and grieved him. He deplored the forced entry and search of prominent journalist Mr Bakhtiar’s residence, and directed the governor to personally supervise the investigations of the incident.

However, the next day, on Friday, November 27, at 2:30 a.m. the same police party which raided the house of Mr. Bakhtiar, raided the house of another journalist, Naseer Ahmad Saleemi, Bureau Chief of weekly Zindagi.

Saleemi said that the team first knocked at the door, and then, on refusal by the inmates to open it, they broke open the door, and entered the house. They searched the house thoroughly.

Saleemi informed that he was a senior journalist, but they refused to listen to him and used abusive language. They took Saleemi’s brother, Bashir Ahmad Saleemi, with them. Later, he was released on the intervention of the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Karachi. The DSP claimed that the raid was conducted after a passport, which bore Saleemi’s address was recovered from a terrorist allegedly involved in the 1994 murder of Mr. Salahuddin, Editor, Takbeer.

Asma Jehangir, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement termed such incidents gross violation of the basic rights of the citizens. Mr. Mahmudul Aziz, secretary, Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) said that CPNE was “deeply concerned and greatly perturbed by the police excesses against law abiding senior journalists”. The BBC World Service protested to the Pakistan high commissioner in London and sought reassurance that BBC journalists would be allowed to work freely in Pakistan and this regrettable and unwarranted incident would not be repeated.

The Muslim Workers Union has condemned the raid on the Lahore residence of lady reporter Aroosa Alam, of The Muslim by uniformed and plain-clothes men of some agencies. In a statement on May 19 the Union said that the raid tantamounts to harassing journalists and an effort to gag the press. They demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Rafiq Tarar to order an immediate inquiry into the incident and take stern action against those who raided the residence without any real authority.

On April 4, journalists belonging to a number of newspapers and news agencies submitted a writ petition against their manhandling by the jail staff and other government officials in the Anti terrorist Court.

Journalists covering the judgement in the Iranian cadet killing case were forced to leave the courtroom and were kept in illegal confinement for more than an hour. They were only freed after the verdict was announced.

Police in Karachi misbehaved with the News Editor of Daily Nawa-i-Waqt on February 26. Haji Ahmed Mujahid, News Editor Nawa-i-Waqt, was-going home riding a motorcycle along with another colleague, when he was intercepted by policemen. The policemen interrogated and got enraged after learning he was a journalist. They warned him that they were empowered to kill him in “encounter” if any report against them would be published.

The Central Investigation Agency raided the house of crime reporter of daily Jang, Raja Tariq at 4:30 a.m. on January 28 in Karachi. As the inmates took some time to wake up, the cop started breaking the door with the butts of Klashnikoves rifles. The police personnel barged into the house and said they were sent to search the house as a dangerous terrorist was hiding in the house. When Raja Tariq asked them whether a lady searcher was accompanying them, the raiding party was infuriated and started beating the young daughter of Raja Tariq. The police party later searched the house for half an hour, took some gold ornaments as they left.

On July 15, one local and two foreign journalists had a narrow escape in Neelam Valley as an Indian mortar shell fell close by, official sources and witnesses said. Jules Crittenden and Brian Walsky of the Boston Herald, a US newspaper, were at Athmuqam, the sub-divisional headquarter of Neelam Valley, along with a local journalist to prepare a report on the losses caused in the area due to India firing and shelling, when a mortar shell fired by Indian forces landed barely 200 yards from them near the already devastated degree college building, sources said.

As the mortar shell was fired, the journalists and the officials accompanying them rushed to take shelter in a bunker constructed by a local resident. Later, the foreign journalists were evacuated safely.

In addition to violence, the county’s media organisations had to face financial intimidation by the government.

On December 14, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided the Rawalpindi office of the Jang group, the country’s largest newspaper group. The FIA team, supervised by the organisation’s Additional Director General, remained in the offices for three hours and searched the premises. They demanded to check the newsprint quotas and store records. However, the newspapers’ staff and office bearers of the workers union resisted this attempt and forced the FIA officials to withdraw from the premises. According to papers FIA officials, harassed journalists and other staff present at the office.

The government denied that any governmental agency had raided the offices of the Jang group and claimed the uproar on the visit by the income tax inspectors was to defame and vilify the government. The government added that routine examination of the accounts and audit of the group was being conducted because of discrepancies in the profit declared to the income tax department and to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). The Jang Group had earlier been served income tax notices of US$13million.

The newspaper group, however, contested the government’s view and maintained that the tax raids were conducted to harass and intimidate the group and its journalists to stop writing stories, reports and investigative stories critical of the government.

According to the newspaper management, there was continued pressure on the group to sack 16 journalists including Maleeha Lodhi (Editor, The News), Irshad A Haqqani (Editor, Jang, Lahore) Kamran Khan (Investigative reporter, The News) and Sohaib Marghob (Editor, Jang Sunday Magazine).

The newspaper group’s spokesman claimed senior officials of the government had put pressure on the Jang group so as not to carry a news story concerning the non-payment of an eleven million pounds (approx. US$18.5million) loan by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif which was published by the British newspaper The Observer a day earlier. The spokesman claimed officials tried to block the publication of the story and threatened that things would get “real tough” if the story was published. The story was reprinted in a number of Pakistani newspapers, including those belonging to the Jang group.

A similar raid was conducted against the monthly Newsline, on October 1. Plainclothes law enforcement officers roamed freely inside the office intimidating the staff and asking for the home telephone numbers and addresses of the editors of the magazine. According to Rehana Hakim, Newsline’s editor, the administration has also ordered tax audits of the magazine and several staff members in apparent retaliation for the magazine’s coverage of government corruption.

Newspaper columnist and human rights activist, Zafaryab Ahmed has not been able to avail the teaching fellowship at Colby College, Maine, USA, as his name continues to be on the Exit Control List (ECL). Persons on the ECL are prohibited to leave the county. Mr. Ahmed was charged with anti-state activities and was put on the ECL in 1995. He campaigned against child labour in Pakistan particularly in the carpet industry and was blamed for reduction in carpet exports and loss of revenue.

Pakistani journalists also had to face problems outside the country in discharging their duties. On December 2, five Pakistani journalists were denied entry to the White House to cover the meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Bill Clinton. The agenda of the meeting included signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the removal of sanctions imposed against Pakistan.

As the media team of the Pakistani Prime Minister proceeded to the north gate of the White House to collect their passes, a list of the five journalists who accompanied the Prime Minister was given to Pakistani officials who, it was said, were not permitted to enter the White House. No reason was given for refusing permission to cover the meeting. The list of journalists accompanying the Prime Minster was given well in time but entry was refused minutes before the actual meeting.

Those refused entry were Rahimullah Yusufzai of The News, Arif Nizami of The Nation, APP correspondent Abdul Qadir, Asia News Network’s Mateen Haider, editor of Khabrain, Khushnood Ali Khan and Majeed Nizami, Chief editor Nawa-e-Waqt.