CPJ Disturbed by the Persecution of Najam Sethi in Pakistan

June 23, 1999 12:00 AM ET

June 23,1999

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

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by evidence that your government is continuing to persecute Najam Sethi, chief editor of the English-language weekly newspaper The Friday Times. In the last few weeks, various government agencies have blocked Sethi from leaving Pakistan, confiscated his passport, and filed more than two dozen cases of tax evasion against him and his family.

Early this morning at the Lahore International Airport, officials from the Federal Immigration Authority (FIA) prevented Sethi from boarding his scheduled flight to London, where he was due to accept an award from Amnesty International recognizing "Journalists Under Threat." According to Sethi, FIA officials informed him that he is barred from traveling abroad for as long as his name appears on the government's Exit Control List. They told him his name had been added to the list on June 2, which is the same day the government dropped all charges against him and ordered his release.

Sethi was arrested at his home in Lahore on May 8, and detained for several weeks in the custody of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the army's intelligence unit. Government statements indicated that Sethi was being investigated for "anti-state" activities, including his alleged collaboration with Indian intelligence operatives. CPJ believes that Sethi's arrest stemmed from The Friday Times' consistent calls for the administration to answer to charges of high-level corruption, coupled with the editor's recent work with a BBC television team investigating these allegations.

Just after the FIA agents turned Sethi away at the airport this morning, he was approached by an official in plainclothes standing nearby, who asked him to hand over his passport. Sethi, assuming that the man was with the FIA, complied with his request. The official then took Sethi's passport under the pretext of making a copy of it. When he did not return, Sethi asked to be taken to the man's office, whereupon he discovered that his passport had in fact been seized by an agent from the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The agent, who identified himself as Inspector Tariq Aziz, told Sethi that the IB would return his passport by mail after "due verification purposes." Sethi's passport had been returned to him just two days earlier, on June 21, by the ISI, which had been holding it ever since Sethi's May arrest.

Meanwhile, Sethi and his family have received at least 28 separate notices from the income tax bureau, claiming millions of rupees in back taxes. Sethi says these notices are nearly all back-dated, so that they are received only after the deadline for replying has already passed. He says that the government has frozen three bank accounts held by his wife, Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of The Friday Times, and ordered the funds to be transferred directly to the income tax collections department. According to Sethi, officials are also threatening to seize his house as well as that of his mother if the taxes are not paid.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is dismayed that under your leadership, official powers are regularly used to punish members of the independent press.

CPJ demands that all government actions against Najam Sethi be ceased, and his fundamental right to travel freely be quickly restored. Pakistan's restrictions on Sethi's travel violate Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of movement to all citizens.

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

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