June 23, 2014
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Office of the Prime Minister
Via facsimile: +92-51-2852663
We are writing to express our deep concern about the deteriorating climate for press freedom in Pakistan, which undermines recent commitments made by your government during CPJ’s mission to the country.
In our meeting with you on March 19, you told us you recognized the scope of the crisis that journalists face in Pakistan and the damage that the country’s record of impunity in journalist murders has done to its international reputation. We were encouraged by the exchange and follow-up we had with you and other Pakistani officials.
We urge you to follow your pledges to address media freedoms with meaningful action. A joint government-media commission to review anti-press attacks and improve security, such as the one you pledged to create, would be a great step toward improving the climate for press freedom in Pakistan.
Since our meetings, conditions for journalists working in Pakistan have drastically deteriorated. Only days after we met, unidentified gunmen fired on the car of Raza Rumi, a senior Pakistani journalist, as he was leaving the studio following his TV show. Rumi was not injured, but his driver was killed.
In April, gunmen shot Geo News senior anchor Hamid Mir as he and his driver left Karachi’s main airport. Mir survived the attack but sustained wounds to his abdomen and pelvis. His driver survived. The next month, two foreign journalists were expelled from the country after being told their visas would not be renewed. The Hindu correspondent Meena Menon and Snehesh Alex Philip, correspondent for the Press Trust of India, left Pakistan within seven days.
On May 20, some members of Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) announced that licenses for Geo News, Geo Entertainment, and Geo Tez, channels under the Geo TV Network, had been suspended. Later that day, PEMRA issued a press release saying the order had “no legal standing” since the meeting had been attended by only five of its 12 members.
On June 3, Zafar Aheer, an editor of the Urdu-language Daily Jang, was beaten by six armed men as he was returning home from work. The assailants confiscated his phone and fired shots around his car before fleeing. Aheer told BBC Urdu that the assailants accused employees of the Jang group of being traitors, Jews, and Indian agents. He also said he had received death threats in connection with his affiliation with the media group.
Daily Jang, part of the Jang media group, is headed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who is also the top executive at Geo TV. Rahman’s outlets have come under increased pressure since Geo TV broadcast allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was responsible for the April attack on Mir. Critics said the coverage was irresponsible.
Staffers at the The News–including Umar Cheema, who wrote critically about the attack on Mir–have received threats. Vans carrying Jang‘s newspapers have been torched in Lahore, Lodhran, and Rawalpindi.
On June 6, Geo News was fined and given a 15-day suspension by PEMRA. The channel went from providing news to millions of people to a blank screen. PEMRA allowed the channel to begin rebroadcasting after 15 days, but news reports said cable operators were continuing to block the channel.
On June 20, PEMRA suspended Geo Entertainment’s license for 30 days and ARY News’ license for 15 days and imposed on each outlet fines of 10 million rupees. News reports said Geo was banned for “insulting the religious sentiments of viewers” in one of its morning shows, and ARY was banned for “bringing high courts into disrepute” in connection with a critical program.
This sets a very dangerous precedent and opens the door for future attempts to shut down news channels that are critical of the state and its agencies. More than 7,500 people are employed under Geo, and their livelihoods and safety are directly affected by the threats to Geo.
We call on your government to reinstate Geo’s ability to operate and broadcast in the country. Your government should ensure journalists at all news outlets are able to work safely and freely in Pakistan.
The commitments you made provide a clear path forward for media freedom in Pakistan. The recent challenges should not derail your efforts to ensure that journalists are able to do their job without fear.
We left Pakistan with a deep sense of optimism following our mission, and remain hopeful that your government is sincerely committed to ensuring greater press freedoms in the country.
CPJ Board member
CPJ Board member
Dr. Nazir Saeed, Secretary, Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage
Mohammad Azam, Additional Secretary Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage
S.M. Imran Gardezi, Director General External Publicity Wing
Humera Azam Khan, Director General Human Rights, Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights
Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Washington