Government-Sponsored Attacks Continue Against Journalists in Pakistan

May 5, 1999

His Excellency Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan
2118 Kalorama Rd., N.W.

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly protest the latest wave of government-sponsored attacks against independent journalists working in Pakistan. We are particularly alarmed that many of the journalists who have been either detained, harassed, or threatened in recent days appear to have been punished for granting interviews to a television crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

  1. Late on May 4, just around midnight, Hussain Haqqani, a veteran journalist and opposition leader, was picked up by a group of men believed to be agents from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Senior government officials have privately confided to several of CPJ’s sources that Haqqani is being detained for questioning related to his interviews with a BBC team producing a program for the “Correspondent” series on high-level corruption in Pakistan’s government. Officials have also indicated that there are plans to charge Haqqani with sedition and high treason, using columns published in the English-language weekly newspaper Friday Times and the Urdu-language daily Jang as evidence of his subversive tendencies.
  2. Haqqani was abducted along with his brother Hassan Haqqani, a colonel in Pakistan’s army, as the two were walking back to the Adyala Defense Officers Colony, a residential complex in the cantonment area of Rawalpindi. Col. Haqqani was taken in a separate car from his brother, and released today after his captors realized they were holding an army officer. Sources close to Col. Haqqani say that he was tortured and interrogated for several hours before being released.
  3. Mehmood Ahmed Khan (M.A.K.) Lodhi, who heads the investigations bureau for the Lahore edition of the English–language daily The News, was reported missing on May 2. Journalists in Lahore report that he was harassed and interrogated for two days about his involvement with the BBC team before being released on May 4. Lodhi’s release followed the intervention of Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat. Basharat was pressured to act after journalists covering the Punjab Assembly boycotted the May 4 session to protest Lodhi’s apparent abduction. Journalists in Lahore threatened to continue their boycott of Punjab Province’s legislative activity until an official investigation was undertaken to discover Lodhi’s whereabouts.
  4. Najam Sethi, chief editor of the Friday Times, has also been harassed since being interviewed for the “Correspondent” program, and has been warned by senior government officials that his work with the BBC team is viewed by some in the administration as an attempt to destabilize the country and overthrow the government. Recent news reports on state-controlled television have accused Sethi of unpatriotic behavior and called for him to be held accountable for such actions. Sethi has also received numerous threatening phone calls.
  5. Yesterday, at around 1:30 p.m., Ejaz Haider, news editor for the Friday Times, received a handwritten, unsigned note warning him to, “Put up bullet-proof windows on your car.” Haider was not home at the time, and so the note was received by Haider’s 7-year-old son in the company of the family’s maid. From inside the house, the young boy spoke to the man delivering the note and received instructions to pass on the message to his father.

    Haider does not know what prompted this particular attack, but believes he may have been targeted because he works for Sethi at the Friday Times.

  6. Early this morning, between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m., Imtiaz Alam, current affairs editor for The News in Lahore, witnessed two or three men setting fire to one of his cars, leaving behind only its charred remains. The men apparently broke into Alam’s gated residential compound and pushed his two cars out onto the street. Then they set fire to the newer car, a Suzuki Khyber, leaving the other vehicle unharmed.

    Alam has received threatening phone calls for some time, and frequently writes articles critical of government policy. Recently, he has been particularly vocal about the “accountability” process in Pakistan directed by Sen. Saifur Rehman.
    As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is deeply concerned that your government appears to be conducting an orchestrated campaign to intimidate the independent media in Pakistan, and prevent them from collaborating with journalists working for international news organizations. CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to abandon such tactics, which are in direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

    CPJ asks that you use the considerable power of your office to order the immediate release of Hussain Haqqani, and make public the reason for his unlawful detention.

    We thank you for your attention to this matter, and await your response.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Ann K. Cooper
    Executive Director

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