New York, November 5, 2007—Pakistan’s government has escalated its efforts since the weekend to silence the press by harassing journalists, attempting to shut down printing presses, and ordering that articles critical of the government be altered, Pakistani journalists told CPJ.
According to news editors at the Urdu-language Daily Ausaf in Islamabad and at the Express in Lahore, the papers were given written orders from officials to alter articles critical of the government that were to appear today. In Quetta, police tried to stop staff and video photographers of the independent station ARY One World TV. In Karachi, police were unable to stop the printing of a special supplement of the daily Awam, owned by the English-language Daily Jang, part of the larger Jang Group of media companies, after they had entered the paper’s press room. There was no violence, and police apparently backed down after meeting with resistance from the paper’s 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 rumors of an imminent crackdown.
“We are greatly disturbed by the ever-expanding restriction being place upon 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 greatly concerned about the possibility of mass arrests.”
Over the weekend, the government closed down all private television stations, many radio stations, and foreign broadcasters like CNN and the BBC since a crackdown began after Musharraf suspended the country’s constitution on Saturday. Since then, Pakistanis have only been able to view news broadcast by the government-controlled Pakistan TV.
Also in the past few days, several cameramen and photographers were injured in various cities around the country while covering lawyers 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 removed the van the station uses for live broadcasts of demonstrations. Many stations continued continue to broadcast via satellite to counties outside of Pakistan, even though their signals were blocked within the country.
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.