April 24, 2007
His Excellency Gen. Pervez Musharraf
President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Via facsimile: +92-51-922-4206
Dear President Musharaff:
As Pakistanis prepare for elections and a possible change of national leadership in the coming months, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to reverse the government’s recent anti-press actions and allow for greater public criticism of your administration in the media. Government harassment through legal, financial, and physical attacks on media houses runs contrary to your often-repeated claim of fostering a free press in Pakistan.
The most recent incident is indicative of your government’s policies. On Sunday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) threatened to close privately owned Aaj TV within three days after it aired programming critical of the government’s role in the political dispute surrounding the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The notice said Aaj TV has incited violence by covering the case as it is being heard before the Supreme Judicial Council.
Aaj TV’s owners say they are not in violation of broadcast regulations as alleged by PEMRA; they suggest that the issue is being used as a pretext to mask your government’s real motives of silencing its broadcasts.
The legal attack on Aaj TV appears to be part of a larger pattern. On March 27, CPJ expressed its concern after receiving a letter from Haroon Hamid, publisher of the Dawn Group of Newspapers. Hamid accused your government of punishing the group by withholding about two-thirds of state advertising since December 2006, according to Hamid. He also accused the government of withholding a television broadcast license from the Dawn Group, even though the application has gotten requisite approvals from PEMRA and the Ministry of Information. Hamid believes that the actions stem from Dawn’s critical coverage of your administration.
And on March 15 riot police used tear gas and batons as they swept through the Islamabad offices of Geo TV, Pakistan’s leading private TV station, which also housed the Daily Jang and The News newspapers, all owned by the Jang Group. The raid came less than a day after the government ordered Geo not to air street protests sparked by the suspension of Chief Justice Chaudhry. Your government also ordered Geo’s popular live news show “Aaj Kamran Khan Key Saath” off the air that evening, an order which you rescinded.
We were gratified by your immediate criticism of the raid, which you delivered live on Geo. “The first thing is that it was a very sad incident. It should have not happened, and I condemn it,” you said. Yet those words have been undermined by your government’s ongoing actions.
The actions taken by your government against Aaj and the Dawn Group, along with the attack on Geo, appear to be part of a pattern of intimidation to silence your critics.
We call on you to make every effort to allow diverse and critical news coverage, particularly in this important time leading up to elections.