New York, November 20, 2007 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is angered by the arrest of more than 180 journalists today who were protesting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s government’s crackdown on media following his declaration of a state of emergency on November 3.
Mazhar Abbas, the secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists who is in New York to receive CPJ’s annual International Press Freedom Awards tonight, said the mass arrest followed the detention of 12 journalists at a demonstration that was marching toward the Governor’s House in Karachi. Abbas said the men and women in detention are expected to be released, but those in jail told him by phone they are concerned about the fate of several of their colleagues who are unaccounted for. Six were beaten by police; three had head injuries had to be taken to a hospital in an ambulance, Abbas said.
“It is time for the Musharraf government to back away from its attempts to control the media,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Jailing journalists is exactly the wrong tactic at a time when the country needs more, not less, media coverage of the events unfolding in Pakistan. It looks like our concerns about the mass arrests of journalists has unfortunately come to pass,” Simon said.
Until now, the government has refrained from detaining large numbers of journalists, though many have been detained and beaten while they were covering street demonstrations. Several thousand lawyers, human rights activists, and members of the political opposition have been detained, though some were reported released earlier today.
“It seems like the government has declared a war of terror against media,” Abbas told CPJ. “The people arrested today were taking part in our nationwide call for demonstrations against Musharraf’s assault on the media. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists is calling for mass demonstrations if these journalists are not released.”