Houston papers disappear, editor threatened


New York, June 18, 2008—The publisher and editor of an Urdu-language newspaper in Houston, Pakistan Times USA, has received telephone death threats, and thousands of copies of the free weekly were removed in bulk from dozens of locations in southeastern Texas. The threats and theft of the papers came after the Pakistan Times USA published an advertisement by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect deemed heretical by some Muslims.

The ad briefly described the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith and announced a centennial celebration of the sect to be held in Houston.

“In accordance with our policy of equal coverage to all faiths we accepted the ad,” Publisher and Editor Najam Ali told CPJ. Pakistan Times USA ran the advertisement on Thursday, May 22. The following day some Islamic clerics at local mosques in Houston denounced the paper for running the ad by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Ali told CPJ. He said he soon began receiving several threatening phone calls about having published the ad.

“We’re going to burn your house [in Houston], and we’re going to burn your house in Pakistan, too,” Ali said one caller threatened on May 24. He said he immediately reported the threat to the Houston Police Department.

A desk officer at the Westside Patrol Station of the Houston Police Department confirmed to CPJ that Ali filed a complaint about the first threatening calls on Saturday, May 24. M.G. Briley of the Houston Police Department who received the complaint labeled it “terroristic threat,” according to both a copy of the complaint obtained by CPJ and another officer who spoke to CPJ from the Westside Patrol Station.

Pakistan Times USA is not the first Urdu-language paper or publication to be targeted in the United States. In May 2007, the publisher and editor of the Urdu Times as well as the editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Post, both based in New York, were each threatened. Two men also followed the Pakistan Post editor-in-chief from his office in Queens to his Long Island home. At least 10,000 copies of each newspaper had also been swept up from their distribution racks and destroyed. CPJ wrote a letter to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg urging police to thoroughly investigate the threats and wholesale destruction of the newspapers. Police immediately assigned an Urdu-speaking officer to investigate the case. To date, no arrests have been made.