Concern in Pakistan as Supreme Court threatens to stifle news coverage

New York, May 10, 2007—The Pakistani Supreme Court should immediately withdraw the alarming press directive issued on Wednesday that is designed to stifle coverage of a controversial issue involving the court, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The court warned print and electronic media to avoid “any interference” in the high-profile dispute over the ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Violations will be considered “contempt of court,” the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

“Discussions, comments or write-ups that are likely to interfere with the legal process, ridicule, scandalize or malign the court or any of its judges, or that touch on the merits of the case are strictly prohibited,” the Associated Press of Pakistan quoted the court’s directive as saying. A contempt citation could lead to imprisonment.

Chaudhry, locked in a political battle with President Pervez Musharraf, is seeking reinstatement after being removed by presidential order on March 9 on allegations of misconduct.

“We’re alarmed that the Supreme Court has threatened Pakistani journalists who have the responsibility of covering an important political story at a time when the country needs more freedom for the media, not less,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The court should strive to uphold freedom of expression, not stifle it.”

Pakistani media organizations and individual journalists have come under legal and economic pressure, as well outright assault, as they have covered street demonstrations, at times violent, that followed Musharraf’s move:

Last week, CPJ named Pakistan one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.