Jang Group of Newspapers Targeted by Government

Feb 1, 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 shocked by the range of tactics your administration is using to harass and intimidate the Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan’s largest newspaper publishing company.

Earlier today, officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) impounded supplies of newsprint bound for Jang’s Rawalpindi headquarters. The action came just hours after a ruling in the Jang Group’s favor by the Supreme Court, ordering the government to allow the immediate delivery of newsprint to the group, which has only enough paper in its reserves to publish through tomorrow. The Supreme Court’s order came on the first day of hearings on a case filed by the Jang Group, accusing the government of conducting a campaign of “vilification, intimidation and harassment.”

Government officials have reportedly announced that they will not comply with the Supreme Court’s directive on the grounds that the Jang Group owes customs duties on previous shipments of newsprint amounting to 1.6 billion rupees (US$31.4 million). The government has also delivered a stream of tax evasion notices against the company-as well as against Jang’s publisher, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman-that now total more than 2 billion rupees (US$40 million).

Meanwhile, on January 30, an official acting “on behalf of the state,” according to the police report, registered a case at Karachi’s Civil Lines Police Station charging the company’s Urdu-language daily Jang-along with the Urdu-language newspapers Amman and Parcham-with sedition. Shakil-ur Rahman is named in the police file, and is accused of publishing a political advertisement that “has created hatred in the public by virtue of seditious contents.”

These threats constitute a multi-pronged assault on Jang’s ability to publish. In addition, two prominent journalists associated with the company have recently reported incidents of personal harassment.

Maleeha Lodhi, an editor with Jang’s English-language daily The News in Rawalpindi, wrote a letter to Interior Minister Shujat Hussain on January 30, complaining that in a 24-hour period she had received several anonymous phone calls threatening that she would be killed and that her house would be “blown up.” Lodhi believes the threats are aimed at her journalistic work and that they have assumed “an ominous nature because of the current climate of hostility created by the government’s assault on the Jang Group of Newspapers.”

Kamran Khan, investigations editor for The News in Karachi, reports that he is being followed by agents who say they are with Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau. On January 28, intelligence agents visited Khan’s home in response to a story he had written, and, according to Khan, sent a message that “I must behave because they knew well about my movements and activities.” Khan says that officials have confirmed that the Intelligence Bureau is tapping his phone calls, and that transcripts of his conversations have been provided to the government’s Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau to “dig [for] some weak points.”

The Ehtesab Bureau, established by your administration to investigate corruption charges, is headed by Sen. Saifur Rahman, who has been accused by the Jang Group of making a number of demands on the company at the behest of the government.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is outraged by your government’s blatant attempts to control the independent media in Pakistan.

CPJ’s initial protest was sent to your office on December 15. In that letter we enumerated several cases of official harassment, and listed the names of 15 Jang journalists (including Lodhi and Khan) whom the government has allegedly targeted for dismissal. We received a reply from Principal Information Officer Ashfaq Ahmad Gondal on December 19, stating that “the government has never asked the management of the Jang Group of Newspapers to dismiss any of their employees” and that “a government that is wholly committed to press freedom cannot even for a moment consider steps that impinge upon freedom of expression.” And yet, in a press conference held on January 28, Shakil-ur-Rahman played excerpts of his tape-recorded discussions with Senator Rahman in which the senator clearly orders the dismissal of several senior journalists, advises the publisher to hire only those journalists who would report favorably on the government’s policies, and demands that Jang’s papers desist from publishing reports critical of the government’s performance. According to the tapes, Senator Rahman said at one point that “If we see any positive change in your attitude, we will settle your problems in a positive manner.”

CPJ strongly urges your administration to cease all actions against the Jang Group and its employees in order to demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to the “promotion, protection, and preservation of the freedom of press,” as pledged in your principal information officer’s December 19 letter.

We appreciate 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