Najam Sethi, editor of the The Friday Times. Released

March 12, 1999 12:00 AM ET

June 3, 1999

His Excellency Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister
Prime Minister's Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes yesterday's unconditional release of Najam Sethi, the founding editor of the English-language weekly The Friday Times. The government's decision to drop all charges against him is a very encouraging development. However, CPJ remains concerned over the legal propriety of his arrest and weeks-long detention without charge.

Sethi was arrested at his home in Lahore on May 8, beaten and gagged by government agents, secretly transferred from Lahore to a detention center in Islamabad, and held incommunicado for more than a week. The government eventually revealed that Sethi was in the custody of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, an army intelligence unit, on suspicions that he had conspired with Indian intelligence operatives. CPJ believes Sethi's arrest stemmed from his work with a BBC team investigating allegations of high-level government corruption, coupled with the editorial independence of The Friday Times.

On June 1, the ISI transferred Sethi to police custody, after an official First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him under sections 123-A ("Condemnation of the Creation of the State and Advocacy of Abolition of its Sovereignty"), 124-A (sedition), and 153-A ("Promoting Enmity Between Different Groups") of Pakistan's penal code, and Section 13 of the Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act of 1974. But on June 2, after failing to produce convincing evidence before the Supreme Court to justify Sethi's prolonged detention, the Attorney General announced that the government was dropping all charges against Sethi.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is dismayed that Pakistan's constitutional guarantees did not protect Sethi from mistreatment.

Article 9 of the constitution states that "No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest," and that "Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before a magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest." And Article 19 expressly guarantees that "Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press."

The constitutional safeguards for a free press are further undermined by the existence of provisions in Pakistan's penal code that criminalize journalistic activity, such as the aforementioned sections 123-A, 124-A, and 153-A. These statutes all provide for imprisonment on the basis of "words, either spoken or written."

CPJ is also deeply concerned by reports that your administration is creating a special "media cell" under the Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau, with the express purpose of targeting journalists for harassment.

We urge your administration to cease its persecution of independent journalists in Pakistan. Your public support of efforts to reform the penal code to remove provisions used to punish journalists for their work would help reassure the international community of Your Excellency's commitment to preserving Pakistan's free press.

Sincerely Yours,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Pakistan

Send a letter to:

His Excellency Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister
Prime Minister's Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan


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