Police attack journalists on World Press Freedom Day

New York, May 3, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s attacks by police on journalists in the cities of Lahore and Islamabad. During peaceful demonstrations in honor of World Press Freedom Day, approximately 50 journalists were injured when police baton-charged demonstrators marching in the center of Lahore, and as many as 60 journalists were forcibly detained for two hours at a police station in Islamabad, local journalists tell CPJ.

Around 200 journalists staged a peaceful rally in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province, marching through town with banners and slogans. As they approached government buildings in the center of town, police attacked them without warning or provocation, beating them with batons, according to eyewitnesses.

Meanwhile, in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, another group of reporters and photographers assembled near the parliament building chanting slogans that called for wage reform and press freedom. Dozens of police officers descended on the journalists, herding them into cars and vans and detaining them at a nearby police station. They were held for two hours before being released without explanation, according to local journalists.

Local sources say that the Information Minister and the Interior Minister denied staging an official crackdown on the press today.

“To beat and arrest journalists on World Press Freedom Day sends a disturbing message about this government’s attitude towards the press,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We are appalled by these violent attacks on our colleagues, and call on authorities to punish those responsible.”

Two weeks ago, a group of journalists traveling with an opposition political figure was detained and harassed at the airport in Lahore, and reporters in Karachi covering the opposition Pakistan People’s Party activities were baton-charged by police. (Read more about these incidents.)