Election Commissioner dismisses petition against editor Najam Sethi

Islamabad, October 6, 1999 – After a two-hour hearing, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan dismissed a petition that sought to exclude embattled editor Najam Sethi from political life by having him declared non-Muslim.

The petition was filed on June 24 by legislator Syed Zafar Ali Shah, a member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling party. It sought to disqualify Sethi, who is the founding editor of the Lahore-based English weekly The Friday Times,from voting or running for office by requesting that his name be struck from voters’ lists if he “does not fulfill the requirements of a Muslim,” as defined in Article 260-3 of Pakistan’s constitution.

The petition also charged that a speech Sethi delivered before a New Delhi audience on April 30 violated Articles 62(h) and 63-1(g) of the constitution, which prohibit people whose speech or actions are deemed prejudicial to the “ideology of Pakistan” from holding any elected office.

The Chief Election Commissioner, Muhammed Qadeer, did not elaborate on his decision.. Lawyers on both sides of the case presented documentary evidence only.

Sethi was arrested at his home in Lahore on May 8, and was detained for nearly a month 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 New Delhi speech, as well as alleged collaboration with Indian intelligence operatives.

CPJ believes, however, that the Sharif government has been targeting Sethi for his consistently critical coverage of official corruption, as well as for giving an interview to a BBC documentary crew that was producing a program on corruption within the Prime Minister’s family.

Sethi and his family have also been fighting more than two dozen cases of tax evasion, all of which appear to be politically motivated.

Click here to read CPJ’s July 19, 1999 protest letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan