CPJ is alarmed by the resignation of Shaheen Sehbai, the influential editor of The News, one of Pakistan’s leading English-language newspapers. Sehbai said today in a resignation letter addressed to his boss but circulated among colleagues and friends that he was leaving his post under pressure from the government, warning that Pakistani officials were sending a message to the press to “Get in line, or be ready for the stick.”
In his letter to Mir Shakeelur Rehman, publisher and editor-in-chief of The News, Sehbai accuses the government of pushing Rehman to fire him and three reporters. Sehbai said Rehman had asked him to fire reporters Kamran Khan, Amir Mateen, and Rauf Klasra because their reporting had angered officials. The Associated Press reported that Sehbai said he would rather quit than dismiss the reporters.
“CPJ is extremely worried about any signs of government interference with the free press in Pakistan,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “The Pakistani press has been one of the few institutions strong enough to help check the military government.”
Sehbai distributed a copy of a letter from Rehman along with his resignation letter, both of which were obtained by the Reuters news agency. Rehman’s letter held Sehbai responsible for an article that “was perceived to be damaging to our national interest and elicited [the] severe reaction of the government,” according to Reuters.
Sehbai said in his resignation letter that the article in question was one that appeared on February 17, authored by Kamran Khan, which concerned the prime suspect in the abduction of slain Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl. In the article, Khan, who also reports for The Washington Post, wrote that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh had told investigators he was also involved in the December 13 suicide squad attack on the Indian Parliament. India blamed Pakistan-backed militants for the attack, leading to escalating tensions between the two countries and the looming threat of war on the subcontinent.
The government stopped all advertising in The News, after the story appeared and intensified pressure on the newspaper’s staff, according to Sehbai.
Rehman did not comment on the allegations.