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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Pakistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Pakistan, February 1998, available at: [accessed 24 October 2017]
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.

Political crisis, ethnic conflict, and an uncertain future continued to plague the press in Pakistan as regionalism and sectarian movements took their toll on the media.

Although Pakistan's minister of information, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, assured CPJ in a meeting in New York on September 25 that the Pakistani government supports press freedom, Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif – elected in February after waging a campaign that led to the ouster of Benazir Bhutto in November 1996 on charges of corruption and human rights abuses – leads a government that hovers on the fringes of repression. Backed by Gen. Jehangir Karamat, Prime Minister Sharif, emerged from a three-month power struggle involving the president and the chief justice, who had moved to oust the prime minister on charges of contempt of court. On December 2, President Farooq Ahmed Leghari resigned and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was removed by other supreme court justices. Amidst the country's golden jubilee celebrations, on August 14, Sharif enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), a harsh martial law-style response to factional violence in the Punjab region between rival Sunni and Shi'a political groups. The new law allows military authorities to arrest "suspected terrorists" without warrant and even, in loosely defined circumstances, to shoot on sight those "committing a terrorist act" or "likely to commit a terrorist act."

In an incident that illustrates the lengths to which Pakistani military authorities can go in prosecuting security "crimes," a military court sentenced Humayun Fur, bureau chief of the Peshawar-based Urdu-language daily Mashriq, to five years in prison for relaying state secrets to a foreign diplomatic mission in Islamabad. Fur had been kidnapped by military authorities on June 28, and then held incommunicado for several weeks before he was tried.

Press freedom conditions deteriorated dramatically in Sindh Province, where continued clashes between the provincial government and the United National Movement (Muttahida Quami Movement or MQM), the armed opposition party of Urdu-speaking Indian immigrants, left at least 400 dead in the city of Karachi.

The Sindh National Front party (SNF), headed by Mumtaz Bhutto, former prime minister Bhutto's uncle, repeatedly subjected Sindhi newspapers to attack, harassment, and other forms of intimidation. In one case, SNF party members brutally beat Shakeel Naich, a reporter for the Sindhi-language daily Awami Awaz, after he published an article critical of Mumtaz Bhutto. In mid-September, a number of reporters were injured when police broke up a march of more than 300 journalists and media workers who were protesting the escalating attacks on press freedom in Sindh Province.

Journalists also report that in rural areas, where the political structure remains semi-feudal, powerful landlords subject journalists who publish investigative reports that could expose corruption in local governments to intimidation and harassment.

Despite ongoing political, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts, the Pakistani press remains vital. Condemning the escalating attacks on the press, local journalist associations and newspaper unions have demonstrated a firm commitment to protecting the rights of their colleagues and to securing press freedom in the country.

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