July 30, 2001
His Excellency Gen. Pervez Musharraf
President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Via Facsimile: 92-51-922-4206
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned that the prosecution on drug charges of Rehmat Shah Afridi, owner and chief editor of the English-language newspaper The Frontier Post and the Urdu daily Maidan, may be politically motivated. On June 27, a special anti-narcotics court in Lahore convicted Afridi on drug smuggling charges and sentenced him to death.
Several well-respected journalists in Pakistan have told CPJ they believe that the exceptionally harsh punishment is due in part to The Frontier Post‘s history of publishing controversial stories, often attacking the country’s political establishment.
Afridi has been imprisoned since April 2, 1999, when agents from Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) arrested him in a predawn sting operation in Lahore. The ANF claims the agents found 21 kilograms of hashish in Afridi’s car and later recovered 651 kilograms of hashish in a truck allegedly owned by him. Afridi has repeatedly denied the charges and says he has been framed.
Journalists have noted that Afridi’s arrest followed a series of articles published by The Frontier Post accusing ANF officers of involvement in the drug trade.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ does not take any position on Rehmat Shah Afridi’s guilt or innocence on drug charges. However, we believe that the widespread perception among Pakistani journalists that his prosecution is politically motivated and unjust merits serious attention.
Ignoring these doubts would likely lead to greater self-censorship on the part of the local media, thereby further eroding press freedom conditions. Journalists must be free to publish critical reports on all government agencies, including the Anti-Narcotics Force, without fear of reprisal.
CPJ urges Your Excellency to appoint a special committee, including senior journalists and legal experts, to investigate possible improprieties in Afridi’s arrest and prosecution. We ask that the panel’s findings be released publicly and look forward to the results of this inquiry.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper