Sindh bans three newspapers, editor jailed

New York, August 23, 2005—The government of the southern province of Sindh banned three Karachi-based weekly newspapers last week accusing them of creating “sectarian extremism and hatred.”

Officials withdrew the publication permits of the three weeklies on August 15 because they published “objectionable material” that caused “danger to public safety/order.”

Police had already raided the offices of Zarb-i-Islam, Friday Special, and Wajood on July 19, shutting down the publications and arresting several journalists including Wajood editor and publisher Mohammad Tahir, who is still in jail.

Both the Urdu-language Zarb-i-Islam and Friday Special are affiliated with Jamaat-i-Islami, an opposition Islamic party. Wajood is an independent conservative weekly critical of the government, according to media sources.

The ban is an effort by President Pervez Musharraf’s government to crack down on Islamic fundamentalist ideology in the wake of the London July bombings, according to local news reports. But Friday Special editor Yahya bin Zakria said in a statement that his paper was targeted because of its critical reporting and that the ban was an “attempt to suppress freedom of speech.”

Tahir’s application for bail was rejected last week, sources told CPJ. All the other journalists arrested in July, including Friday Special assistant editor Abdul Latif Abu Shamil, have been freed on bail.

Tahir told the BBC in an interview from jail that when he was arrested police told him that his paper had been critical of the government. “They never mentioned anything about hate material,” he said.

Local sources said that Tahir might have been targeted for critical articles he had written about local police and prison officials. They said that Tahir has been abused in jail, and that he was at risk because he was being held with the general prison population.

Tahir plans to appeal the rejection of his bail to the high court, sources say.
He is accused of fomenting “hate material”, but sources say that the government has not been able to produce evidence of this.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists condemned the ban and called for Tahir’s release.

At least a dozen other publications are on a so-called “watch-list” in Sindh because of alleged objectionable content, according to the BBC.

“We are concerned that critical voices could be silenced in the name of safeguarding against religious extremism,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Mohammad Tahir’s safety must be ensured, and he should be released on bail immediately.”