CPJ urges Musharraf to allow Pakistan’s media to operate freely

New York, November 4, 2007—The government of President Pervez Musharraf should withdraw the severe restrictions it has placed on Pakistan’s news media and allow independent television and radio stations to resume coverage of the country’s political crisis, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“President Musharraf’s drastic steps to silence news coverage make a mockery of his often repeated claims to have fostered free and open media,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We share the fear that many journalists have expressed to us—that critical members of the press will be silenced by being thrown in jail, as has happened to opposition politicians and critics in civil society.”

Ministry of Information officials and representatives from the prime minister’s office are scheduled to meet with TV and radio station owners on Monday, according to Mazhar Abbas, secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists in Islamabad. So far, the government’s restrictions have silenced only electronic media; newspapers continue to appear, many with headlines critical of the president’s moves.

After suspending Pakistan’s constitution, the government put forward new regulations on Saturday that, among other things, make it illegal to report critically about government policies; discuss Supreme Court cases challenging the October vote that returned Musharraf to power; broadcast live coverage of antigovernment protests; or report on the results of attacks by antigovernment militants. Violations of the new law can result in up to three years in prison, fines of 10 million rupees (US$165,000), and suspension of broadcasting licenses.

Shortly after the constitution was suspended, all national and international news broadcasts within Pakistan were shut down by government order, although some stations continued to broadcast internationally by satellite. State-run Pakistan TV was the only broadcaster still on domestic airwaves as of mid-day.

Police entered the Islamabad offices of independent broadcaster Aaj TV on Saturday and later interrupted its satellite signal, stopping its satellite transmission of news outside of Pakistan. Other TV stations can still be seen outside the country. At least two Islamabad radio stations, FM 103 and FM 99, have been shut down.