June 6, 2007
The Hon. Michael R. Bloomberg
City of New York
New York, N.Y. 10007
Via facsimile (212) 788-2975
Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
Given your long background in journalism and commitment to press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists wants to bring to your attention a serious issue in New York City.
We urge you and the New York City Police Department to thoroughly investigate threats made against the editors of two New York City-based, Urdu-language weekly newspapers. CPJ also urges you and police authorities to investigate repeated incidents of organized destruction of the newspapers themselves from various distribution points in boroughs across New York City. In the case of each newspaper, our research shows that the threats and destruction of property were in direct reprisal for the newspapers’ reporting and commentary, including coverage of alleged criminal activities by Pakistani-Americans living in New York City and opinion pieces by Jewish authors.
The Pakistan Post included several such stories as well as a report on a press conference by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations, in its weekly edition released on Wednesday, May 23. By the following day, May 24, at least 10,000 copies of the free-circulation newspaper were picked up from their distribution racks in various kiosks and restaurants that cater to Pakistani-Americans, Pakistan Post editors told CPJ. Many of the newspapers were later discovered having been dumped illegally in Brooklyn, editors told CPJ.
A competing newspaper, Urdu Times, ran many of the same stories in its weekly edition released on May 23. Similarly, by the next day, about 10,000 copies of the free-circulation newspaper were picked up from kiosks and restaurants, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens, Urdu Times editors told CPJ. One large pile of newspapers was later discovered in a parking lot in Brighton Beach, editors told CPJ.
In each case, editors told CPJ, witnesses at several distribution locations saw groups of men removing the newspapers’ entire stocks. This wholesale destruction was accompanied by threats to editors.
The publisher and editor of Urdu Times, Khalil-ur-Rehman, said he was approached by a man as he was leaving the newspaper’s printing facility on May 23. He recognized the man as being an associate of a well-known Pakistani-American figure in New York City whose alleged criminal activities had been the subject of a recent Urdu Times report. “The man told me that if I print more reports such as these that ‘anything could happen to me,'” Rehman told CPJ.
The next day, May 24, the editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Post, Mahammed A. Farooqi, said he went to Brooklyn to replace in various kiosks and restaurants copies of the weekly that had been removed and destroyed the day before. “I was stopped by two men in Brooklyn who threatened to kill me and my family and vowed to ruin my business. They also accused me of being a Jewish agent as we have been publishing Mr. Jack Rosen’s article for [the] last several months almost every week,” Farooqi told CPJ. Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, is a regular columnist in the Pakistan Post.
Five hours later, Farooqi told CPJ, the same two men approached him in front of his home in Long Island, apparently after having followed him from Brooklyn. “They let me know [they know] where my family and I live,” he told CPJ.
Farooqi told CPJ he filed complaints with New York City police as well as Suffolk County police. Rehman told CPJ he went to the 108th Precinct in Long Island City, Queens, on May 26 to file a complaint. He said he waited three hours for an officer to take his statement, but finally left to meet another commitment. Both editors told CPJ that police have been largely unresponsive. A New York police spokesman, who spoke to CPJ on background only, said the department has been unable to determine whether or what crime occurred.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide. CPJ urges you and New York City police to investigate these complaints from the editors of North America’s two largest Urdu-language newspapers. CPJ further urges your administration to take action to ensure that these newspapers are allowed to continue to report without fear of reprisal, and that the newspapers be allowed to distribute across New York City without fear of being gathered up for destruction by organized groups intent on silencing the press.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
Via facsimile (646) 610-5865
Deputy Inspector Michael Osgood
Hate Crimes Task Force
Via facsimile (646) 610-6822
Louise Arbour, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Article 19 (United Kingdom)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
The Newspaper Guild
The North American Broadcasters Association
Overseas Press Club
Reporters Sans Frontières
The Society of Professional Journalists
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee