Last Updated: Wednesday, 07 December 2016, 12:47 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Pakistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Pakistan, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566b230.html [accessed 8 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Although the press in Pakistan enjoyed greater freedom under its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in 1999, journalists there still operate under pressure from the military, religious hard-liners, intelligence agencies, and the country's antiquated blasphemy laws.

Since parliamentary elections in October 2002, which were held with the stated goal of restoring democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan, the government has been locked in a power struggle between Musharraf's attempts to strengthen the presidency and Parliament's demand that he relinquish his title as head of the army and rule the country as a civilian president. On December 24, Musharraf finally agreed to step down as military head in 2004 as part of a deal to extend his five-year term with the approval of Parliament's major parties, including the Islamist coalition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and the Pakistan People's Party.

The role of the military within the government will continue to be a critical issue for Pakistan's future, especially after Musharraf narrowly escaped two assassination attempts in an 11-day period in December in Rawalpindi, the town outside the capital, Islamabad, where the military is headquartered.

In this climate, the country's nuclear policy, religious issues, and any criticism of the army remained taboo for the Pakistani press. Pakistan's blasphemy laws (sections 295 A, B, C, and 505 of the Penal Code) state that anyone who "directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed shall be punished with death, or life imprisonment, and shall also be liable to a fine." According to local journalists, the laws were used to persecute journalists and led to self-censorship among the press in 2003.

On July 8, Munawar Mohsin, a former subeditor at the Peshawar-based national daily Frontier Post, was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Northwest Frontier Province on charges of blasphemy for publishing a letter to the editor in January 2001 titled "Why Muslims Hate Jews," which included derogatory references to the Prophet Muhammad. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Post the day after the letter appeared and set fire to the building housing the paper's printing press. District officials charged Mohsin and six other staff members with blasphemy; two went into hiding, and the other four were arrested but later released. Mohsin is the only Post staff member still in jail. Although a judicial inquiry into the case found that the offending letter was published by mistake, and the Post placed prominent advertisements in all of Pakistan's major newspapers apologizing for the incident, the court ruled that Mohsin "intentionally and willfully committed an offense."

The severity of Mohsin's sentence was seen as a warning to local journalists not to print anything that could offend Pakistan's religious groups. The July 28 edition of the U.S.-based weekly Newsweek magazine was banned and all copies were seized because of an article about the original language of the Quran, which Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said could "incite religious sentiments." In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Ahmed said the government "expected the media to be careful about the religious sensitivities of the Muslim people."

The media also had to be careful about the sensitivities of the Pakistani army in 2003. Amir Mir, former editor of the Weekly Independent, a Lahore-based English-language newspaper, was forced to resign in June under pressure from local government officials who accused the paper of running articles that were "against the national interest," and of having an "anti-army policy." A former head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) also threatened the paper, and the local Punjab government withheld advertisements in retaliation for the Weekly Independent's critical articles about the military.

Undaunted, Mir moved on to the monthly magazine the Herald, a publication known for highlighting Musharraf's suppression of civil liberties, and continued writing articles that questioned the actions of the military. According to a report in the daily Jang, the largest circulation national Urdu-language newspaper, Musharraf criticized the Herald and accused the paper of "damaging our national interest" during a meeting with newspaper editors on November 20. On November 22, Mir's car was set on fire in front of his house in Lahore, and he said shortly after that, he received a phone call from a member of the ISI telling him that this was "just the beginning."

On December 4, Information Minister Ahmed denied that Musharraf had made the reported comments about Mir and reaffirmed Pakistan's commitment to press freedom, saying that the government would "safeguard and protect freedom of the press as it believes that a free and vibrant media are essential for the consolidation of democracy."

The March arrest of senior al-Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi marked a potential breakthrough in the investigation of the January 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl. Mohammed is reportedly a top aide to Osama bin Laden and allegedly organized the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. According to an October report in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. authorities have strong evidence that Mohammed himself killed Pearl, who was kidnapped in Karachi on January 23, 2002, while researching a story about Islamic extremists. He was held by a group that issued statements in the name of the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, and it was not known whether Pearl was alive or dead until a videotape of his murder was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad on February 21, 2002. At year's end, Mohammed was in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.

In 2002, four men were convicted of Pearl's murder. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to death, and Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel received 25-year sentences. Naseem, Saqib, and Adeel denied any involvement in Pearl's killing and appealed their convictions. Their hearings were delayed six times in 2003. At year's end, Pakistani police were still looking for seven other suspects in the case.

In 2003, two Islamic extremist groups linked to Pearl's murder, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, were banned in Pakistan for preaching militancy and hatred. According to local journalists, the ban includes monitoring publications associated with these groups. After a suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in the southwestern city of Quetta in July killed as many as 54 people, Musharraf launched another crackdown on outlawed militant groups under the country's antiterrorism law. In 2002, more than 1,000 alleged militants were rounded up and then released. This time, Pakistan's Central Bank asked members of militant organizations to submit security deposits that would be forfeited if they rejoined the outlawed groups, and the Interior Ministry closed their offices.

In October, two journalists in the Khyber Agency Region of Pakistan's tribal areas on the western border with Afghanistan were threatened and briefly detained by an outlawed extremist group after reporting on the group's activities. Other local journalists said that Taliban and al-Qaeda members have harassed them for reporting on their activities in the region.

Due to outcries from the press, a series of restrictive defamation laws proposed in 2002 were not formally approved by Parliament in 2003. The government retained its control of the electronic news media in Pakistan, but authorities took their first steps toward liberalizing media policy in January, when the government issued licenses to 22 companies to open private FM radio stations and allowed private companies to apply for TV station licenses. For now, the radio stations are only allowed to broadcast music and entertainment, but a senior official told the BBC in January that they may be allowed to broadcast news in the future. Pakistani satellite news channels, which are not permitted to broadcast from inside the country, are operated out of Dubai and the United Kingdom.


2003 Documented Cases – Pakistan

JANUARY 21, 2003

Fazal Wahab, freelance
KILLED – CONFIRMED

Wahab, a freelance writer, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while he was sitting in a roadside shop in Manglawar Bazar, near the northwestern resort town of Mingora. The shopkeeper and his young assistant also died in the attack.

Wahab, who lived in Mingora, had published several books in Urdu and in Pashto – the language spoken in the border region of Pakistan and parts of neighboring Afghanistan – that criticized local religious leaders and Islamic militant organizations.

Local journalists and human rights activists told CPJ that Wahab had been receiving threats for years in response to his writings. Although they do not know who is responsible for his murder, his colleagues believe that he was targeted for his work.

Among Wahab's most controversial works was a book titled Mullah Ka Kirdar (The Mullah's Role), which analyzed the Islamic clergy's involvement in politics. He had also recently completed a manuscript about Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

During the last decade, a militant group known as Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law) has gained strength in Mingora and the surrounding Malakand Region. Wahab's writings and outspoken opposition to radical and militant strains of Islam made him particularly vulnerable to attack.

MARCH 10, 2003

Ilyas Mehraj, Weekly Independent
Weekly Independent
THREATENED

Punjab Home Secretary Ejaz Shah telephoned Mehraj, publisher of the Lahore-based, English-language newspaper the Weekly Independent, and warned him, "Enough is enough.... The Punjab government has finally decided to proceed against your newspaper for working against the national interest," according to an account published by the weekly. Shah denies making these remarks and told CPJ that he did not speak to anyone at the Weekly Independent that week.

The Weekly Independent's editor told CPJ that Shah – a retired army brigadier, former head of the Punjab division of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, and a close associate of President Pervez Musharraf – advised Mehraj to "roll back" the weekly's operations if the journalist wanted to stay in business and stay safe. Shah allegedly criticized the newspaper for writing against the army and warned Mehraj to consider the example of Rana Sanaullah Khan, an opposition politician who has been twice arrested and tortured in custody for his criticism of Pakistan's military government.

The Weekly Independent also reported that the Punjab provincial government has withheld all public advertisements from the newspaper since late 2002. Government advertisements provide a crucial source of revenue for newspapers in Pakistan and have been used by previous administrations to reward and punish certain publications for their political coverage.

JULY 8, 2003

Munawar Mohsin, Frontier Post
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Mahmood Shah Afridi, Frontier Post
LEGAL ACTION

Mohsin, a former subeditor of the national daily Frontier Post, was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Northwest Frontier Province on charges of blasphemy. The charges stemmed from a letter to the editor published in the Frontier Post on January 29, 2001, titled "Why Muslims Hate Jews," which included derogatory references to the Prophet Muhammad.

Sessions Court Judge Sardar Irshad delivered the verdict in Peshawar, the capital of Northwest Frontier Province. Judge Irshad also issued a warrant for the arrest of Afridi, Frontier Post managing editor. Afridi, who was also charged with blasphemy, went into hiding. The judge acquitted two other former Frontier Post staffers – then news editor Aftab Ahmad and computer operator Wajihul Hassan – but ruled that, "The evidence on the record reflects [that the] accused Munawar has intentionally and willfully committed an offense under the Pakistan Penal Code."

But lawyers and journalists present during the proceedings told CPJ that there was no evidence to support the contention that Mohsin published the offensive letter intentionally, a crucial element in determining criminal culpability. On the contrary, in testimony given before a magistrate soon after his arrest in January 2001, Mohsin admitted that he had published the letter by mistake, without reading the full text carefully. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that he "could never think of abusing our Holy Prophet" but admitted that, having only recently completed a drug rehabilitation program, he had not been able to focus fully on his editorial responsibilities. Mohsin's lawyer filed an appeal.

JULY 23, 2003

Newsweek
CENSORED

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed issued a nationwide ban on the July 28 issue of Newsweek magazine's international edition because it contained an article deemed offensive to Islam, according to the Karachi-based Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF).

The article, titled "Challenging the Quran," discussed a new interpretation of Islam's holy book by a German scholar of Semitic languages who uses the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. The scholar's work, which the Newsweek article outlined, radically departs from the mainstream, concluding that the original language of the Quran was not Arabic but something closer to Aramaic, and that, as a result, much of the book has been "mistranscribed" and misinterpreted. For example, Luxenberg called into question the traditional interpretation of Sura 33, a verse taken to mean that Muhammad is the final and ultimate prophet of God.

"The article is insulting to the Koran," Ahmed told The Associated Press. "The decision was taken to prevent religious violence and control the law and order situation." Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, insulting Islam, its holy book, or its prophet is punishable by death.

OCTOBER 3, 2003
Posted: October 6, 2003

Ameer Bux Brohi, Kawish
KILLED

Brohi, 27, a district reporter for The Daily Kawish, the largest Sindh-language daily newspaper in Pakistan's Sindh Province, and Kavish Television News (KTN), was murdered by two unidentified gunmen.

The police chief in the rural town of Shikapur where the murder took place told CPJ that the two gunmen shot Brohi in front of the local police station at 8:15 p.m. on October 3 and fled the scene. The journalist had been quarreling with the unidentified gunmen, according to witnesses quoted in The Daily Kawish. Police rushed Brohi to the Shikapur District Hospital, where he died from his injuries, the Pakistan Press Foundation reported.

The motive is unclear, but local journalists told CPJ they are outraged by Brohi's killing and they believe that the murder was motivated by Brohi's reporting on sensitive local issues that may have angered feudal strongmen. Local journalists are demonstrating throughout Sindh Province and calling for a full investigation into the shooting.

OCTOBER 17, 2003
Posted: November 14, 2003

Six photojournalists
ATTACKED

Six photojournalists were attacked and beaten up by Lahore High Court Bar Association vice president Tariq Pervez Janjua in the northeastern city of Rawalpindi.

The Civil Lines Police had registered a forgery case against Janjua. As Janjua was leaving the court, after having been granted "after arrest bail," the photojournalists began taking pictures of the accused. When they saw the photographers, Janjua and his lawyers became enraged and started abusing the journalists. They snatched their cameras and destroyed them. They also threatened to kill the journalists for covering the criminal proceedings against Janjua. Three of the photojournalists were injured and have been hospitalized but no serious injuries have been reported.

Rawalpindi's Crime Reporter's Associations and Rawalpindi-Islamabad Photojournalists Association organized a demonstration in front of Parliament on Monday, October 20, 2003, protesting the manhandling of the journalists by the lawyers.

The Federal Information minister, the acting president of Pakistan Muslim League and other members of the provincial assembly expressed solidarity with the protesters and participated in the demonstration.

The minister said that the government would compensate the journalists for their destroyed equipment. But they also said that if the journalists want to charge Janjua in for manhandling, the case should be filed privately.

NOVEMBER 10, 2003
Posted: November 14, 2003

Muhammad Ijaz, Geo TV
Haji Muhammad Ajmal, Jang
ATTACKED

Ijaz, a journalist with Geo TV, and Ajmal, a correspondent with the national daily Jang were injured after two consecutive bomb explosions struck a residential area of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan on Monday, November 10. According to a Jang reporter, Ajmal suffered minor injuries but Ijaz's right eye has been severely injured and he's awaiting surgery in the Agha Khan Hospital.

Police said the first bomb went off in a garbage dump at 9:10 pm, and a second bomb exploded in a nearby dustbin half an hour later when bomb disposal experts, police, and journalists were at the site. In addition to the two journalists, seven policemen were injured as well.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Quetta, which over the last two years has been the scene of scattered violence against its Shiite minority. Investigations are underway, according to local journalists.

NOVEMBER 11, 2003
Posted: February 3, 2004

Raza Hussain Jaffery, Qalam Kaman
ARRESTED, THREATENED

Jaffery, editor of the monthly newspaper Qalam Kaman in the city of Mian Channu in Pakistan's Punjab Province, was arrested and held in jail for two weeks in retaliation for an article he published about Sheikh Jamil, an influential former politician, according to local journalists.

On September 19, 2003, Jaffery called Jamil to confirm a report that police had raided Jamil's home and that alcohol and prostitutes had been found on the premises. Jamil became enraged, demanded to know Jaffery's source for the information, and ordered the journalist to come to his office. When Jaffery arrived, Jamil threatened to kill him if he did not reveal his source.

Jaffery then went to the police and reported the threat, but when police did nothing, Jaffery published his complaint in his newspaper. Men working for Jamil followed the journalist and threatened him, according to Jaffery.

In retaliation, Jamil also went to police and alleged that Jaffery had tried to blackmail him and that the journalist had come to his house with a pistol, according to Jaffery. Police arrested Jaffery on those charges and held him from November 11 to November 25. Jaffery says he was abused during his detention.

Jaffery says that his license for publishing Qalam Kaman was revoked at the end of December 2003, but he appealed and was granted a stay on January 6, 2004. According to Jaffery, Jamil continues to threaten the journalist and his family.

NOVEMBER 13, 2003
Posted: November 14, 2003

Anwer Siyal, Barsaat Karachi
IMPRISONED

Police arrested Siyal, senior reporter and journalist of Sindhi daily Barsaat Karachi and his son, Ali over a dispute with an army officer's servant in the southern city of Hyderabad. The dispute involved Ali asking a Pakistani Army's servant for a donation for the local mosque. The servant refused to give the donation, beat Ali up, and filed charges against Ali for intimidation and attempted murder.

When Siyal went to free his son, the police, upon learning of his profession, arrested and detained Siyal, as well. A day later when the case was brought to court, the judge ordered both father and son jailed until November 20. Siyal's newspaper Barsaat regularly publishes critical stories about the army and the government.

Local journalists said that this case is representative of the abuse of power by army officers in the area. According to Ali Hassan, the president of Hyderabad's Press Club, the police and the judge did not investigate the matter properly and arrested and convicted both father and son solely because an army officer's servant told them to do so. The journalism community here has condemned the arrest of journalist Anwer Siyal and demanded his immediate release.

NOVEMBER 22, 2003
Posted: December 8, 2003

Amir Min, Herald
ATTACKED

Three unidentified assailants set fire to the car of Mir, senior assistant editor of the English-language monthly the Herald.

The attack came after a months-long series of threats and pressure. In June Mir was forced to resign as editor of the Weekly Independent, a Lahore-based, English-language newspaper, under pressure from local government officials who accused the paper of running articles that were "against the national interest" and of having an "anti-army policy." Mir then went to work for the Herald, a magazine known for its critical articles about your administration.

Mir says that during the last few months, he has continued to receive threats from government officials who ordered him to stop writing against the army and told him that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was personally angry with him for his articles about the military.

On November 21, local Pakistani newspapers reported that Musharraf allegedly made critical comments about the Herald in a meeting with a group of newspaper editors on November 20. According to local news reports, Musharraf accused the magazine of "damaging our national interest."

On November 22, Mir's car, which was parked in front of his house in Lahore, was set on fire. Mir says he received a phone call on November 23 from a member of the Inter-Services Intelligence government security agency telling him that this was "just the beginning."

In response to criticism of these attacks against Mir, on December 4, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed denied that Musharraf had made the reported critical comments and reaffirmed Pakistan's commitment to press freedom, saying that the government would "safeguard and protect freedom of the press as it believes that a free and vibrant media are essential for the consolidation of democracy."

DECEMBER 16, 2003
Updated: MArch 29, 2004

Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, freelance
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Rizvi, a well-known journalist and fixer for international news outlets, was detained and secretly held for five weeks before authorities in the southwestern city of Quetta charged him with sedition, conspiracy, and impersonation

The charges against Rizvi stem from his work as a fixer for two French journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau from the newsweekly L'Express, in December 2003. Rizvi and the French journalists went to Quetta to research a story about Taliban activity along the Pakistan-Afghani border from December 9 through December 14, 2003, even though Epstein and Guilloteau only had visas to travel to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. When the three journalists returned to Karachi on December 16, 2003, officers from the Federal Investigation Agency arrested Epstein and Guilloteau and charged them with visa violations under Pakistan's Foreigners Act for traveling to Quetta without permission. Rizvi was also detained, but police and government authorities officially denied holding him despite protests from his family and international human rights groups.

The French journalists pleaded guilty to the visa violations on January 10 and received six-month sentences that were waived on appeal two days later. They were allowed to return to France on January 12, but Rizvi remained behind bars. On January 24, police filed criminal complaints against Rizvi, charging him with sedition, conspiracy, and impersonation, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Two other individuals were also charged with Rizvi, Allah Noor and Abdullah Shakir. Police accused the three men of fabricating video footage of Taliban activity in Pakistan. Rizvi has said that he is innocent.

On February 12, formal sedition charges against Rizvi, Noor, and Shakir were submitted to an anti-terrorism court. On February 24, Rizvi's lawyer filed to have the charges against him dismissed, and after a March 11 hearing, Rizvi told reporters that he was tortured while in police custody, and that he has not been allowed visitors. Local journalists say that the charges against Rizvi are politically motivated and are meant to send a warning to other journalists.

A judge granted bail to Rizvi on March 27, and his lawyer, Habib Tahir, told local journalists that he would be released from jail March 29 after posting a 200,000 rupees (US$3,500) bond payment. His next hearing is scheduled for April 19.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

Search Refworld

Countries