September 11, 2007
His Excellency Gen. Pervez Musharraf
President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Via facsimile: +92-51-922-4206
Dear President Musharraf:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by emerging reports of brutal attacks on Pakistani journalists by security personnel during the Monday morning arrival of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad. According to reporters at the scene, the violence went far beyond the pushing and shoving that can occur at such breaking news events.
While journalists complained of excessive manhandling by the authorities, CPJ has been told of at least two incidents in which security personnel at the Islamabad airport repeatedly struck and kicked television reporters.
- Fakhar ur Rehman, the defense correspondent for Aaj TV who also works for the U.S. television network NBC and Turkish National TV, was assaulted without warning in the public arrival area of the airport by three plainclothes men as airport security personnel stood by and watched. Rehman said the men attacked him as he was using his cell phone to do an interview with Aaj. The group eventually grew to five men; they beat him for about 15 minutes, Rehman estimated. He was dragged from the public area to a corridor and then taken to a small room where “they continued to hit me with all their might,” he said. Rehman eventually made it to a hospital the next day and has stayed at home, largely confined to his bed with spine and head pain. He told CPJ he is unsteady when he tries to walk.
- In a separate incident at around the same time, cameraman Talat Farooq was assaulted by security personnel in the parking lot of the airport while he was videotaping for Dawn TV. According to Huma Ali, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Talat was pummeled repeatedly until he was no longer able to work. The assault on him came as part of widespread scuffle as security guards drove journalists from the airport building.
Several journalists — those who had arrived on the plane with former Prime Minister Sharif from London, and Islamabad-based journalists who had managed to skirt the 5-kilometer (3-mile) security cordon around much of the airport — told CPJ that the actions of the security guards were much more aggressive than usual.
It is ironic that despite Pakistan’s inability to investigate or control such assaults and the deaths of journalists, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammad Ali Durrani claimed last March that “Pakistan has become a model of free media in the entire South Asian region,” according to the official government news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan.
Outright attacks like these by the government’s security apparatus are unacceptable. The government must act immediately to investigate how and why its security forces were allowed to lose control, and then bring those responsible to justice. Until then, the government’s claims of renewed press freedom in Pakistan will continue to ring hollow.