Pakistani police raid Geo TV; president later apologizes

New York, March 16, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Pakistani government to appoint an independent judicial commission to investigate and report on today’s outrageous assault by uniformed police on the offices of Geo TV and the Daily Jang in Islamabad.

Riot police used tear gas and batons as they swept through the Islamabad offices of Geo TV, Pakistan’s leading private TV station, around 4 p.m. today. It was not immediately clear how many people were injured or if any arrests were made. Police had been stationed around the city to quell widespread street protests.

Geo aired the raid live. “Police have attacked our office, they are breaking windows. They are beating our staff. They have used tear gas shells. Even our female staff have been hurt. They are damaging our building,” Geo’s Islamabad Bureau Chief Hamid Mir said on the air, according to The Associated Press. The Daily Jang, which shares office space with Geo, was also raided. The two news outlets are both owned by the Independent Media Organization.
The raid came less than a day after the government ordered Geo not to air street protests sparked by the suspension of the country’s top judge. The government also ordered Geo’s popular live news show “Aaj Kamran Khan Key Saath’” (“Today with Kamran Khan”) off the air on Thursday evening.

President Pervez Musharraf, speaking live on Geo, apologized for the raid. “The first thing is that it was a very sad incident. It should have not happened, and I condemn it.” He said the “culprits responsible for it must be identified and action against them must be taken today. I believe in the freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and whatever happened today, it should have not happened. I apologize over this incident.”

Said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director: “Today’s assault on Geo and the Daily Jang are a culmination of the government’s increasingly heavy-handed tactics toward the media. President Musharraf’s apology will not ring true until those responsible for such an outright attack are brought to account—even if the investigation reaches well into those surrounding the president.”

According to Geo employees, Minister for Information Ali Durrani went to Geo’s Islamabad office soon after the raid began but said he was helpless to stop the attack. Durrani reportedly said the ban on Khan’s program would be lifted.

Later today at the Karachi offices of Geo and the Daily Jang, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of about 700 workers. The threat came shortly after 7 p.m.

The Musharraf government has had to contend with increasing domestic and international pressure as protests have increased in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was suspended by the president last week for alleged abuse of authority. Chaudhry enjoys widespread respect, and Musharraf’s moves have been seen by some as an attack on the judiciary.