Pakistan continues to silence news media

New York, November 8, 2007—The Pakistani government is continuing efforts to silence the press by harassing journalists, attempting to shut down printing presses, and censoring articles critical of the government, local journalists told CPJ today.

News editors at the Urdu-language Daily Ausaf in Islamabad and at the English-language Express in Lahore said their papers were given written orders to alter articles critical of the government. In Quetta, police tried to obstruct reporters and camera operators for the independent television station ARY One World. In Karachi, police were unable to stop the printing of a special supplement of the daily Awam, owned by the English-language Daily Jang, after they had entered the paper’s press room. There was no violence, and police apparently backed down after meeting resistance from pressroom employees, according to newsroom staff.

Opposition groups claim that 3,500 lawyers, members of the political opposition, and human rights groups have been detained since Saturday, but the government has said the number is about half that. There have been no reports of widespread journalist detentions despite speculation about an imminent crackdown.

“We are greatly disturbed by the restrictions placed on the media,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We have already seen individual journalists and media houses targeted because they will not toe the government line. We call on President Musharraf to reverse the policies he has put in place and let journalists report openly on what is happening in Pakistan at this crucial time. We are deeply concerned about the possibility of mass arrests.”

Over the weekend, as Musharraf suspended the country’s constitution and declared a state of emergency, the government closed all private television stations and many radio stations, and it blocked domestic access to foreign broadcasters such as CNN and the BBC. Since then, Pakistanis have been able to view only news broadcast by the government-controlled Pakistan TV. Many Pakistani stations continued to broadcast via satellite to countries outside Pakistan.

This week, several camera operators and photographers were injured in various cities nationwide while covering lawyers and others protesting the state of emergency. On Saturday, police entered the Islamabad offices of independent broadcaster Aaj TV and later interrupted the satellite signal it was using to transmit internationally. Police also seized the van the station used for live broadcasts.

On Sunday, the government made public an ordinance approved the day before that allowed for sweeping restrictions on coverage of the deteriorating security situation as the government confronts growing resistance from Islamic militants, mainly along the border with Afghanistan. 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.