September 28, 2000
His Excellency Gen. Pervez Musharraf
Chief Executive, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
General Headquarters, Pakistani Army
Via Facsimile: 92-51-922-4206
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned by the threatening posture adopted by an army inspection team sent yesterday to the headquarters of the Dawn Group of Newspapers at Haroon House in Karachi. The newspaper group includes some of Pakistan's most influential and respected publications, including the English-language daily Dawn.
At around 10 a.m. on September 27, six military personnel arrived at the Dawn Group offices, along with a representative of the provincial electrical inspector and three engineers from the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC). The officers insisted on carrying their weapons, despite Dawn's security requirements, and threatened to disconnect the building's electrical supply if they were not granted immediate access to all parts of the premises.
Though the involvement of the armed forces in electrical inspections has become routine in Pakistan - the practice began under the civilian administration of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif - journalists at Dawn told CPJ that this inspection appeared to be an effort to harass and intimidate the staff.
According to a statement published in today's edition of Dawn: "The high-handed manner in which the inspection by the army monitoring team was carried out left the indelible impression that a punitive raid rather than an electrical inspection was the basic objective of the operation."
The statement noted that the timing of the inspection was especially suspicious: "There have been sufficient warnings over the last few days . . . to publishers, editors, and journalists of the Dawn Group that the authorities were preparing for something 'significant.'"
Dawn journalists told CPJ that administration officials were particularly angered by a September 12 Dawn article entitled "Free Press: Is Musharraf Having Second Thoughts?" In the article, senior correspondent Shaheen Sehbai noted that Your Excellency, on a recent visit to the United States, had exhibited a "growing impatience with the Pakistani press . . . [complaining that] it was irresponsible, corrupt, unpatriotic at times, and not pursuing healthy journalism."
On September 18, Sehbai received an e-mail warning from a colleague, saying, "The entire Information Ministry is up in arms against you over your Washington piece on the CE [Chief Executive] ... So keep your head low, but keep your pen up. And watch your back."
The following day, September 19, Dawn received a letter from Javed Jabbar, minister of information and media development in Your Excellency's government. In the letter, Jabbar claimed that Sehbai's article contained malicious and defamatory accusations against officials in the Information Ministry. He threatened legal action if the newspaper did not print a clarification.
Editors and reporters at Dawn say that in recent months they have received many more anonymous letters and phone calls than usual, accusing the newspaper of publishing material that is against Pakistan's national interests.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is troubled by these ominous signals that the Pakistani press may be coming under threat. Accordingly, we urge Your Excellency to issue a public statement reaffirming your professed commitment to respect media freedom. In the absence of constitutional protections and democratic safeguards, journalists in Pakistan are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary abuses of state power. CPJ hopes that your administration will not use its formidable powers to control the press, as previous military regimes have done.
Ann K. Cooper