Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2017, 12:39 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Pakistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Pakistan, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566e923.html [accessed 27 May 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.

As a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, intensified efforts to capture al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in 2004. Musharraf also grew increasingly agitated by local and international reporting on alleged terrorist activities inside the country, deeming such coverage "antistate." Journalists covering these sensitive issues faced growing obstacles in 2004, from illegal detentions and onerous antiterrorism legislation to stepped-up defamation laws and financial pressures.

The Pakistani press is remarkably lively and outspoken, but local journalists say they must operate within limits or face official pressure. Some harassment is relatively subtle. The government can stop advertising in publications, a powerful inducement because the vast majority of newspapers depend on revenue from official ads. In retaliation for critical reporting, authorities in February halted federal and provincial government advertising in the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications, which publishes more than 10 daily newspapers and magazines, according to local journalists. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid denied any official ban, claiming it was instead a "reduction." Government advertising resumed in October, but the message to publishers and editors was clear: Journalists who are too critical will pay dearly.

In July, the government stopped advertising in the Islamabad-based Urdu-language daily Jinnah after it ran articles about Pakistan's nuclear program and a critical story about the powerful Rashid, local sources said. These topics and others – such as the military, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or militant Islamic activity – particularly irritated government officials, who ratcheted up their rhetoric against the press in 2004.

The arrest and detention of Khawar Mehdi Rizvi starkly illustrated the government's tactics. Rizvi, a veteran journalist and fixer for international news organizations, accompanied two French journalists with the newsmagazine L'Express to the western city of Quetta in December 2003. They went to research and film a story about Taliban activity along the western border with Afghanistan, although the French reporters did not have visas to travel to Quetta.

Rizvi and the French journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean-Paul Guilloteau, were arrested in Karachi on December 16, 2003, but officials initially denied holding Rizvi and said he must be "missing." Epstein and Guilloteau were charged with visa violations, given six-month suspended sentences in January, and allowed to return home. Meanwhile, authorities continued to deny holding Rizvi until January 24, when he was finally brought before a Quetta court and formally charged with sedition, impersonation, and conspiracy – charges that could bring life imprisonment. Speaking to reporters outside the court, Rizvi said he had been tortured while in custody.

In an interview on CNN days before Rizvi's first hearing, Musharraf claimed to have no idea where he was but said the journalist was a "most unsympathetic man" who was "trying to bring harm to my country." Pakistan's state television, PTV, meanwhile, repeatedly aired footage it claimed that Rizvi had staged of Taliban fighters. On March 29, Rizvi was finally granted bail. He was on trial in antiterrorism court until December, when he left the country. Rizvi told CPJ that the court proceedings against him had been riddled with irregularities, and that he had no chance of receiving a fair trial. Authorities revoked his bail and began harassing his family after his departure, Rizvi said.

Another local reporter was arrested in April after accompanying a Western journalist near the semiautonomous tribal areas along Pakistan's western border. Sami Yousafzai, a stringer for Newsweek magazine and an Afghan national, traveled with American freelance reporter Eliza Griswold through Northwest Frontier Province on April 21. After they were stopped at a military checkpoint in Bannu near the western border of the tribal region, Yousafzai and their driver were arrested and held for more than a month, first in prison in Peshawar and later in a jail in South Waziristan, also in western Pakistan. Griswold was allowed to leave the country without penalty.

Foreign reporters must get special permission to travel into tribal areas, and they face increasing restrictions on other fronts. Clearances are required to visit certain cities, and the government is proposing new rules barring foreign reporters from a growing number of sites across the country, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The Pakistani army launched a major offensive in March in the remote and mountainous tribal regions to flush out al-Qaeda and Taliban members. For the most part, the military denied local and foreign journalists access to cover the operations. CPJ has documented several instances of the military detaining or arresting journalists at checkpoints; confiscating their equipment; and flatly denying them entry to areas where fighting was occurring. Local journalists say they are under threat from both sides: The military bans the journalists, and local commanders threaten them. As a result, there has been little independent reporting on the ground, as well as concern about the number of civilian casualties. Officials counter that local reporters give skewed information that favors the militants.

In October, local press coverage of a hostage crisis in South Waziristan ignited a conflict between journalists and the information minister. A pro-al-Qaeda tribal leader named Abdullah Mehsud kidnapped two Chinese nationals in early October and gave frequent interviews to the press during the ensuing hostage crisis. On October 12, Information Minister Rashid threatened to use an antiterrorism law against journalists who were, in his words, "glorifying" or "presenting terrorists as heroes."

"Today we have warned the media," Rashid said. "If they don't pay heed, then we'll see what we can do." He threatened to use the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Ordinance – which allows police to detain people suspected of terrorist activity for up to a year without charge – against reporters who cover events relating to terrorism, according to press accounts. Local journalists told CPJ that in meetings in the fall with regional press ministers and journalists, Rashid reiterated that journalists whose writing went "against the interests of the country" risk being punished under the antiterrorism law.

In another setback for the free press, the government moved closer to strengthening the country's criminal defamation code. A new bill proposed an increase in penalties for libel, including up to five years in prison and minimum damages of 100,000 rupees (US$1,700). A provision that would have held publishers, editors, and reporters accountable for libel charges in individual cases was dropped after intense lobbying from the journalism community, but troublesome aspects remained in the bill, which the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, passed in August. The Senate was reviewing the measure at year's end.

The government did loosen its grip on Pakistan's electronic media in 2004. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued 55 licenses for private FM radio stations and 10 licenses for satellite TV channels, according to the state-owned Pakistan Newswire. As many as 15 privately run FM stations went on the air in 2004, the Peshawar-based national daily Frontier Post reported, but content restrictions remained. Rebroadcasting foreign news is forbidden, according to local news reports, and "antinational" reporting is prohibited, according to The New York Times.

Local journalists say that a "fear factor" promotes self-censorship, keeping many journalists, publishers, and owners in line. Two respected political columnists, Shafqat Mahmood and Kamran Shafi, quit their posts at the English-language daily The News to protest the "intrusive editing" they say they endured as a result of critical stories on domestic issues and the Musharraf administration. Writing in the South Asia Tribune, an online news Web site, Mahmood said his superiors told him there was "too much pressure from the government and the paper has no choice but to censor me." Mahmood and Shafi now write for the English-language daily The Friday Times. A third columnist, M.B. Naqvi, remains at The News but writes mostly about international issues to avoid censors, sources told CPJ.

Pakistani forces killed Amjad Hussain Farooqi, one of the nation's most wanted criminals and a main suspect in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, during a shootout in the southern town of Nawabshah on September 26. Pearl, the Journal's South Asia bureau chief, was kidnapped and murdered in early 2002 while researching a story on terrorism. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Farooqi was a key al-Qaeda member with links to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mohammed, who is also implicated in Pearl's murder, was apprehended in 2003 and placed in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.

The four Pakistanis convicted of Pearl's murder in July 2002 have tried repeatedly to appeal their sentences, but their petitions had still not been heard by year's end. Another suspect in Pearl's murder, Asim Ghafoor, was killed in a shootout with police in Karachi in November. Several other suspects in the murder remain at large.

The press debated the circumstances behind Farooqi's killing. In an interview with the satellite television channel ARY-TV, Farooqi's brother claimed that Farooqi had been in police custody for several days before being killed. According to the South Asia Tribune, the report infuriated Pakistani officials, who called ARY-TV and ordered the news program that had aired the interview, "News and Views," off the air for several weeks in October.

A positive development for the press came in November, when the country's lone imprisoned journalist, Munawar Mohsin, was released after spending four years behind bars on blasphemy charges. Mohsin, a former editor at the Frontier Post, was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2003 for publishing a letter to the editor that included an allegedly derogatory statement about the Prophet Muhammad. Mohsin was acquitted on appeal because the court found that publication of the letter was not a "willful act," according to Mohsin's lawyer.


2004 Documented Cases – Pakistan

JANUARY 29, 2004
Posted: January 29, 2004

Sajid Tanoli, Shumal
KILLED

Tanoli, a reporter with the regional Urdu-language daily Shumal, was shot and killed in the town of Manshera in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Police have filed murder charges against Manshera's local government head, Khalid Javed. The police have also arrested Javed's brother and son as accomplices to the murder, said a local journalist.

Tanoli, 35, was killed after he wrote an article on January 26 about an allegedly illegal liquor business run by Javed. Enraged by the article, Javed filed a libel suit against Shumal on January 27, according to local journalists. Then, two days later, he shot Tanoli, who died instantly, and fled the scene. Javed remains at large.

FEBRUARY 2004
Posted: March 15, 2004

Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications
HARASSED

The government effectively stopped all advertising revenue from both federal and provincial government sources to the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications, which is one of Pakistan's leading media organizations and publishes more than 10 daily newspapers and magazines.

In interviews with local media, Nawa-i-Waqt Executive Editor Arif Nizami blamed the government action on the newspaper's critical coverage. "Our reporting about the supremacy of democratic institutions in the country pains the rulers," said Nizami. Local journalists say that this action is an attempt by the government to pressure and control independent newspapers in Pakistan.

In a March 11 meeting at the National Assembly, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed claimed responsibility for the action against the Nawa-i-Waqt Group, but denied that there was an official ban, saying instead that there had been a "reduction in the supply of advertisements." Rashid promised that he would "sort out the problem," and that the group would be compensated for their losses from the government's actions.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, and other journalists groups protested the government's move against the Nawa-i-Waqt Group and accused the government of violating press freedom in Pakistan.

In 2002, the government stopped nearly all advertising to the Jang Group of Newspapers, another powerful media company, soon after one of its newspapers, the English-language daily The News, ran a story connecting the main suspect in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.

MARCH 2, 2004
Posted: March 3, 2004

Geo
ATTACKED

About 20 rioters broke into the offices of the private Geo television station in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Pakistan's Balochistan Province. They set fire to administrative records, newspapers, and other materials, according to the Karachi-based Pakistan Press Foundation. The office was closed for a holiday, and no one was injured. The building also houses the offices of the national daily Jang newspaper. Police have not made any arrests in the attack.

The incident occurred after assailants opened fire on a religious procession of Shiite Muslims in Quetta, marking the Ashura festival, the holiest day in the Shiite calendar. A suicide bomber also detonated an explosion in the crowd. Members of the procession and police returned fire, according to press reports. At least 47 people were killed in the attack, which launched widespread rioting throughout Quetta. Officials have enacted a curfew on the city.

On February 24, Geo television broadcast a talk show during which the moderator made statements that some members of the Shiite minority found offensive, according to local journalists and press reports. On February 29, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Karachi Press Club, chanting slogans against the Geo program. About 15 of the protesters stormed the building and beat up a security guard, according to a report in the national English-language Dawn newspaper.

MARCH 17 – MARCH 29, 2004
Posted: April 14, 2004

All media
RESTRICTED

Pakistani authorities effectively barred foreign and local reporters from entering the Wana area during a bloody 12-day confrontation between Pakistani troops and Islamic militants there, according to The New York Times. (Wana is the regional capital of the remote western province of South Waziristan.) With as many as 5,000 Pakistani soldiers fighting to flush out members of al Qaeda from the tribal regions, there were reports of casualties of up to 150 from both sides.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists protested the "undeclared ban" on covering the military operation. Local reporters who tried to report on the offensive in or near the region, despite the restrictions, faced harassment and, in several cases, brief detentions. Other journalists were stopped from entering South Waziristan at its border, according to local news reports.

On May 20, a group of journalists was given a helicopter tour of the area by Pakistani authorities, according to international news reports. The tour flew over an area far from the fighting, and the journalists were then given a military briefing.

In recent months, foreign journalists working in Pakistan have faced increased restrictions on their movements inside of the country, including a ban on visas to the western areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border and the tribal areas where there have been reports of Taliban and al Qaeda activity.

When the offensive officially ended on March 29, some journalists were able to report freely from the area again, but according to an April 14 report by The Associated Press, access is still restricted in some of the tribal areas.

MAY 10, 2004
Posted: May 17, 2004

Syed Mohsin Naqvi, CNN
HARASSED

Naqvi, a producer with the U.S.-based channel CNN, was detained at his home in Lahore during the evening, according to local news reports. Officers claimed to have received a tip that there was a bomb in the journalist's home. They searched the premises but would not leave, despite Naqvi's request that they do so.

As a result, the journalist missed a flight he had planned to take to Abu Dhabi that evening to accompany exiled politician Shahbaz Sharif to Lahore from Abu Dhabi on May 11, according to the English-language daily The News. CNN confirmed that the incident occurred but would provide no other details.

Shahbaz Sharif is the head of the opposition political party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Group (PML-N) and the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

Zaffar Abbas, a producer with the BBC, and Ali Faisal Zaidi, a cameraman with the BBC, were also detained after they accompanied Shahbaz Sharif on his flight to cover his homecoming.

Security forces and elite police commandos were deployed throughout the airport and sealed off the building, according to Abbas and local news reports. Several other journalists were also harassed and denied access to Shahbaz Sharif's arrival. According to the United Arab Emirates' English-language daily Gulf News, security officers asked all of the journalists waiting to cover Shahbaz Sharif's arrival to leave the airport as soon as passengers began exiting the plane.

Authorities put Shahbaz Sharif on a plane out of the country soon after the plane landed in Lahore, according to news reports.

MAY 11, 2004
Posted: May 17, 2004

Zaffar Abbas, BBC
Ali Faisal Zaidi, BBC
HARASSED

Abbas, a producer with the BBC, and Zaidi, a cameraman with the BBC, were detained after accompanying exiled politician Shahbaz Sharif on his flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore to cover his homecoming after three years in exile. Shahbaz Sharif is the head of the opposition political party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Group (PML-N) and the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

After Abbas and Zaidi exited the plane behind Shahbaz Sharif, police immediately pulled them aside, according to Abbas. The journalists identified themselves as BBC journalists, but police confiscated Zaidi's camera equipment and Abbas' recording equipment, took their passports, and put them in a police prison truck, where they were confined for almost an hour. After their release, their equipment and passports were returned, but their tapes were not.

Security forces and elite police commandos were deployed throughout the airport and sealed off the building, according to Abbas and local news reports. Several other journalists were also harassed and denied access to Shahbaz Sharif's arrival. According to the United Arab Emirates' English-language daily Gulf News, security officers asked all of the journalists waiting to cover Shahbaz Sharif's arrival to leave the airport as soon as passengers began exiting the plane.

Police also detained a CNN producer in his home to keep him from covering the story.

Authorities put Shahbaz Sharif on a plane out of the country soon after the plane landed in Lahore, according to news reports.

MAY 26, 2004
Posted: June 22, 2004

Evening Special
Morning Special
Midday Special
Daily Special
Zamana
CENSORED

Pakistani authorities shuttered five Urdu-language tabloid newspapers in Karachi for one month, beginning May 26, 2004, on charges of obscenity and breaches of the press law. Eleven employees, including editors and publishers, were also briefly jailed but have since been released on bail. The government is expected to lift the monthlong ban on June 25 if the newspapers offer a written apology.

According to local journalists, the newspapers published nude photographs and advertisements for prostitutes, and their journalistic standards were questionable. Ahfaz ur Rahman, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, said these newspapers covered "material that contained unconfirmed and concocted stories. In short, they did not believe in any code of ethics."

Local journalists condemned the Pakistani government for shutting the newspapers instead of bringing formal charges against them in court.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it is seeking a consensus between newspaper owners, editors, and professionals on how best to tackle obscenity or other violations of moral codes of conduct by Pakistani publications.

According to local journalists, two of the newspapers, the Evening Special and Morning Special, were previously banned in 2002 for similar reasons. They were allowed to resume publishing within 15 days on the assurance that they would not publish naked photographs and inappropriate material.

In 1995, six evening Urdu-language newspapers were banned for allegedly sensationalizing crimes. These papers included Awam, Public (evening and morning editions), Qaumi Akbar, Evening Special, and Aghaz. However, after five days, the government lifted the ban without any condition.

MAY 26, 2004
Posted: June 18, 2004

Naziruddin Ahmed, The Nation
Zia Mazhar, Umaat
Aamir Qureshi, Agence France-Presse
WOUNDED

More than a dozen photographers, including Ahmed, Mazhar, and Qureshi, were injured during a twin car bomb attack in Karachi, outside the Pakistan-American Cultural Center (PACC), 330 feet (100 meters) from the U.S. consul general's home, according to international news reports and local journalists.

Upon hearing news of the first car bomb attack, photojournalists and reporters rushed to the scene on Fatima Jinnah Road. While photographers and cameramen were taking pictures of the first car, the second car blast took place, injuring many of them. The explosions were between 15 and 30 minutes apart.

According to the BBC, the first car had a government license plate and did not immediately arouse suspicion. Police sealed off the area after the first blast, and bomb experts were inspecting the wreckage when the second car exploded, damaging the outer wall of the PACC.

At least 12 photographers were rushed to the government-owned Jinnah Hospital, and three of them – Ahmed of English-language daily The Nation, Mazhar of Urdu-language daily Umaat, and Qureshi of Agence France-Presse – had serious wounds.

The Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) expressed concern for the safety of local photographers and journalists given the rising volatility in Karachi. The KUJ is appealing to newspaper owners to take stronger measures to protect journalists and to provide them with better health coverage and insurance.

JUNE 12, 2004
Posted: June 16, 2004

Majid Rahman, Khabrain
Allah Noor, Frontier Post
Amir Nowab, The News
Saeed Khan, freelance
RESTRICTED

Rahman, Noor, Nowab, and Khan, who are all Peshawar-based journalists, were detained when they tried to enter a mountainous region of the South Waziristan Agency, in the semi-autonomous tribal areas, to cover the Pakistani army's military offensive against suspected al-Qaeda fighters, according to local journalists.

The four – the three print reporters and Khan, a photographer – were stopped and held by security officials at a military checkpoint near the Shakai region. Officials confiscated their possessions, including notebooks, cameras, and cassettes, and detained the journalists for two hours. They were then released, and their belongings were returned to them. But film was taken from their cameras, and their cassettes were also confiscated.

Journalists were also restricted from entering the tribal areas in March, when the military launched another offensive against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members.

JUNE 25, 2004
Posted: June 30, 2004

Journalists
ATTACKED

Journalists who attended a press conference held by the director-general of the Pakistan Postal Services in Lahore were physically assaulted by postal service employees and an army officer, according to local news reports and sources.

Sources told CPJ that a group of local journalists who were covering the press conference tried to leave early but were stopped by army Maj. Mansoor Noor. Noor told the journalists they couldn't leave because the director-general had not finished, the English-language daily Dawn reported. When the journalists objected, Noor locked the room from inside and assaulted several of them. A large group of postal service employees also attacked the journalists and confiscated their cell phones.

The journalists who were assaulted included Arshad Ansari, a reporter for the Urdu-language daily Jang and president of the Lahore Press Club; Wasif Nagi of Jang; Ahsan Shaukat of the Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt; Ubaidullah Hasan of the Urdu-language daily Express; Fawad Hashmi of the news service Associated Press of Pakistan; Ali Raza of the English-language daily The News; Hafiz Faiz of the Urdu-language daily Khabrain; Ali Farooq of the Urdu-language daily Pakistan; Amir Suhail of the Urdu-language daily Din; and Zaheer Saddiqui of Dawn.

Following the incident, a delegation of journalists led by Ansari met with Punjab Province Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who condemned the assault and promised to take action against those responsible.

JUNE 26, 2004
Posted: July 16, 2004

Shafqat Mahmood, The News
Kamran Shafi, The News
CENSORED

Two senior op-ed writers, Mahmood and Shafi, from the English-language daily The News, recently resigned from the newspaper due to the alleged censorship of their articles, which criticized the Musharraf government. Both journalists are now employed by The Friday Times, an English-language weekly newsmagazine.

Mahmood told local journalists that since April 2004, the editing of his columns had become increasingly intrusive. Any comments against the government and General Musharraf were toned down, and at times, entire paragraphs were deleted.

He added that Mufti Jamiluddin, a former information officer of the government, was recently made an in-house censor for the paper's editorial pages. Despite his protests, Mahmood was told that there was tremendous pressure from the government, so he would have to drastically cut down his criticism in his op-ed articles.

Under these circumstances of censorship, both Mahmood and Shafi decided to quit The News to work at The Friday Times.

JULY 10, 2004
Posted: July 16, 2004

Saima Zahoor, Express
ATTACKED

Zahoor, a reporter for the Urdu-language daily Express, was attacked by Asif Rahim, a deputy secretary in the Environment Ministry, in the capital, Islamabad, and locked in a room for one hour.

Upset about her line of questioning about pollution in a local lake, Rahim called in a security guard to escort the reporter out of the office. When Zahoor did not cooperate, Rahim reportedly became angry and slapped the journalist. Then he dragged her into a separate room and locked her in for an hour.

Zahoor immediately called her colleagues and the police on her cell phone. When the police arrived, Rahim's staff released Zahoor from the office.

Local journalists protested the abusive treatment of Zahoor and staged a walkout from the parliamentary press gallery during the July 12 Senate session. Journalists demanded
Rahim's suspension and that a criminal complaint be registered against him. The journalists only returned to the press gallery after government officials agreed to their demands, according to news reports.

On July 12, Federal Minister for Communications Babar Khan Ghouri told journalists and the Senate that a case would be registered against Rahim on charges of harassment.

JULY 17, 2004
Posted: July 23, 2004

The Daily Jinnah
CENSORED

The Pakistani government's Ministry of Information abruptly stopped running ads in The Daily Jinnah, the Islamabad-based, Urdu-language independent newspaper, in retaliation for its editorial policy and its publication of critical articles about Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the powerful federal minister for information and broadcasting, according to local journalists.

In accordance with licensing requirements, The Daily Jinnah was placed on the government's Central Media List on December 6, 2003, which is necessary for publications to have their circulation figures audited and therefore be eligible for government advertisements. However, on July 9, 2004, the newspaper was suddenly removed from the list.

Government ads are a key source of revenue for most media outlets in Pakistan, according to local journalists. Editors at The Daily Jinnah believe that this ban could lead to the newspaper's closure, which would put about 600 people out of work.

The All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) has strongly protested the government's action, according to local news reports. In a letter to the information minister, APNS argued that using advertisements as a weapon to influence editorial policy is a blow to press freedom and violates Article 19 of the Pakistani Constitution, which guarantees free speech.

The Daily Jinnah began publishing on October 22, 2003.

AUGUST 20, 2004
Posted: September 24, 2004

South Asia Tribune
CENSORED

The online Pakistani newspaper South Asia Tribune, known for its frequent criticism of the government of President Pervez Musharraf, was blocked by all Internet service providers linked to Pakistan's national telecommunications system, Pakistan Telecom, after the paper ran an article on August 18 about an army operation in the eastern Baluchistan Province, according to the paper's editor, Shaheen Sehbai.

Sebhai says that after the August 18 story ran, he began receiving e-mails from readers complaining that the newspaper's Internet site was blocked. No one inside Pakistan could access the paper. Contacts at Pakistan Telecom confirmed the official order for the ban on the Internet site, according to Sehbai.

Using alternate Internet service providers and anonymous Web site addresses, the South Asia Tribune is accessible to readers again, but the official ban on the original Web site stands.

The South Asia Tribune was also blocked last year, from March 2003 to June 2004, according to Sehbai.

A former editor at the English-language daily The News, Sehbai resigned in March 2002 citing government interference in the newspaper. Now living in exile, Sehbai runs the online newspaper from the United States.

Although Pakistan enjoys a relatively lively press, some subjects remain taboo, especially those relating to the army or military operations. In 2004, journalists have been routinely barred from areas along the eastern Afghan border during the army operations against alleged Taliban members in the tribal areas. Local journalists who report on sensitive subjects risk being accused of "spreading hatred" against Pakistan by government officials, and other harassment.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2004
Posted: October 20, 2004

Sailab Mehsud, Tribal Union of Journalists
Alamgir Betni, ARY TV
Anwar Masood, ARY TV
Irfan Siddiqui, ARY TV
Sheikh Rehmatullah, Geo TV
Irfan Khan, Geo TV
Shaukat Khattack, Geo TV
HARASSED

Seven local journalists were stopped at the Jandola military checkpoint on their way into the eastern tribal region of South Waziristan and denied entry, according to local journalists and press accounts. The group protested by staging a sit-in at the checkpoint, but military officials removed them and detained them overnight.

The remote tribal regions, which border Afghanistan, have been under tight military control since the Pakistani army launched a spring offensive to flush foreign Islamic militants from the area. Pakistan's tribal areas are reportedly home to foreign Taliban members who fled after the regime's collapse in late 2001.

Media access to the areas has been severely restricted since military operations intensified in March, prompting concerns about an unofficial news blackout, the lack of accurate information about the fighting, and possible civilian casualties. Government officials accuse local journalists of biased reporting toward the groups fighting the Pakistani army in the region.

In June, another group of print reporters were detained and harassed at a military checkpoint in South Waziristan.

OCTOBER 3, 2004
Posted: November 9, 2004

Shahid Masood, ARY TV
THREATENED, CENSORED

Host of the popular evening current affairs program "Views on News" on the London and Dubai-based satellite television channel ARY TV, Masood apparently fell out of favor with Pakistani government officials after he aired an interview with the brother of suspected terrorist Amjad Farooqi, according to local sources and news reports.

Official accounts say Farooqi, a suspected top al-Qaeda operative, died in a shootout with police in September in southern Pakistan. Prior to his death, Farooqi had been the most wanted man in Pakistan for masterminding two assassination attempts against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and for the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, according to The Associated Press.

In the interview with Masood, Farooqi's brother denied the official version of the killing, claiming instead that Farooqi had been in police custody for several days prior to his death.

In response to allegations made in the interview, local journalists say, government officials called ARY TV's London office and ordered the channel's owners to fire Masood and take the program off the air. The channel stopped broadcasting the program in mid-October. According to the South Asia Tribune, a news Web site, "Views on News" was ARY TV's most popular program.

NOVEMBER 26, 2004
Posted: December 9, 2004

Newsweek
CENSORED

Officials in the capital, Islamabad, issued a nationwide ban on the November 22 issue of Newsweek because it published "objectionable remarks which [were] tantamount to desecration of the Quran," according to state-run media. The banned edition's article on the life of slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh carried an image from his movie "Submission" in which verses of the Quran are written on a woman's back.

The issue was widely distributed before the ban came into effect. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad told a private TV station that officials regretted the delay in banning the sale of the issue and confiscating remaining copies, according to the Urdu-language newspaper Khabrain.

Pakistani authorities banned Newsweek once before, in July 2003, for an article deemed offensive to Islam. Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, insulting Islam, its holy book, or its prophet is punishable by death.

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

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