CPJ condemns harassment and detention of journalists

New York, May 14, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the harassment and detention of several Pakistani journalists in connection with the Tuesday, May 11, return of exiled politician Shahbaz Sharif to Lahore.

Zaffar Abbas, a producer with the BBC, and Ali Faisal Zaidi, a cameraman with the BBC, accompanied Sharif on his flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore to cover his homecoming after three years in exile. Sharif is the head of the opposition political party the Pakistan Muslim League­Nawaz Group (PML­N) and the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

After Abbas and Zaidi exited the plane behind Shahbaz Sharif, police immediately pulled them aside, according to Abbas. The journalists identified themselves as BBC journalists, but police confiscated Zaidi’s camera equipment and Abbas’ recording equipment, took their passports, and put them in a police prison truck, where they were confined for almost an hour. After their release, their equipment and passports were returned, but their tapes were not.

Security forces and elite police commandos were deployed throughout the airport and sealed off the building, according to Abbas and local news reports. Several other journalists were also harassed and denied access to Shahbaz Sharif’s arrival. According to the United Arab Emirates’ English-language daily Gulf News, security officers asked all of the journalists waiting to cover Shahbaz Sharif’s arrival to leave the airport as soon as passengers began exiting the plane.

CNN producer detained
Police also detained CNN producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi at his home in Lahore on the evening of May 10, according to local news reports. Officers claimed to have received a tip that there was a bomb in the journalist’s home. They searched the premises but would not leave, despite Naqvi’s request that they do so. As a result, the journalist missed a flight he had planned to take to Abu Dhabi that evening to accompany Shahbaz Sharif from Abu Dhabi to Lahore on May 11, according to the English-language daily The News. CNN confirmed that the incident occurred but would provide no other details.

Authorities put Shahbaz Sharif on a plane out of the country soon after the plane landed in Lahore, according to news reports.

“We are outraged by these blatant press freedom violations,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Authorities targeted and illegally detained journalists who were trying to cover an important news event. Sadly, this appears to be part of an overall deterioration of conditions for journalists in Pakistan, and we urge authorities to reverse this disturbing trend.”