The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about a recent threat allegedly made by a senior official of the Punjab provincial government to the Weekly Independent—a Lahore-based, English-language newspaper.
On March 10, Punjab home secretary Ejaz Shah reportedly telephoned Weekly Independent publisher, Ilyas Mehraj, and told him, “Enough is enough. The Punjab government has finally decided to proceed against your newspaper for working against the national interest.” The weekly carried Shah’s comments in an article published today. Shah denies making these remarks and told CPJ that he has not spoken to anyone at the Weekly Independent during the last week.
However, CPJ believes that because of the serious nature of the allegations, an official inquiry is warranted. The Weekly Independent‘s editor told CPJ that Shah—who is a retired army brigadier, former head of the Punjab division of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, and a close associate of Your Excellency—advised Mehraj to “roll back” the weekly’s operations if he wants to stay in business and stay safe. Shah allegedly criticized the newspaper for writing against the army and warned Mehraj to consider the example of Rana Sanaullah Khan, an opposition politician who has been twice arrested and tortured in official custody in apparent reprisal for his criticism of your military government.
The Weekly Independent also reports that the Punjab provincial government has withheld all public advertisements from the newspaper for the past five months. Government advertisements provide a crucial source of revenue for newspapers in Pakistan and have been used by previous administrations to reward and punish certain publications for their political coverage.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges Your Excellency to order a prompt and impartial investigation into the allegations that Ejaz Shah attempted to intimidate Weekly Independent‘s publisher. If Shah did indeed make such threatening remarks, you should request that he resign.
CPJ also respectfully asks Your Excellency, as well as leaders of the Punjab provincial government, to guarantee that all journalists in Pakistan are free to work without fear of political interference or physical reprisal. We will continue to monitor events there closely to ensure that no action is taken against the Weekly Independent, its staff, or management.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and await your response.