PAKISTAN: Threats to newspaper condemned

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists calls threats by pro-Taliban forces to an Urdu daily as an attack on press freedoms

Dawn
Saturday, June 12, 2008

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE --- All bodies representing the media have condemned threats given to an Urdu daily by pro-Taliban elements and Lal Masjid clerics over the newspaper's views on rising extremism and intolerance in the country.

In a statement issued here on Saturday, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) termed the threats to Urdu daily Aaj Kal an attempt to silence the voice of dissent and expressed concerns over the rising trend of violence from non-state actors against media personnel.

"Everyone has the right to dissent with the policy of any newspaper but threats, whether from the government or non-state actors, will be considered an attack on freedom of the press," the PFUJ statement said.

According to the newspaper management, threats came over the editorial policy of the newspaper and speeches were made against the newspaper on Friday by pro-Taliban activists outside Lal Masjid in Islamabad. The staff also got threatening telephone calls in Lahore and Islamabad.

"The PFUJ always advocates responsible journalism and everyone has the right to disagree with the policy of any newspaper. They can ask their supporters not to read the said daily, but they should not threaten them," the statement said.

The PFUJ reminded clerics of Lal Masjid that one of its colleagues, photojournalist Javed Khan died, while covering the military operation against the mosque last year, while another journalist was still under treatment and fighting for his life.

The media gave full coverage to the events last year and again on its first anniversary.

"We expect them to behave honourably if any newspaper or channel criticises their politics in its editorials. They also have a right to protest if Aaj Kal or any other newspaper or channel does not give them due coverage. But they should respect the dissenting voice," the statement said.

CPNE: The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), in a statement from Lahore, also condemned the threats by non-state elements to take law into their hands to silence the daily for its outspoken views on rising extremism in the country.

"We see this as an attack on the freedom of the press and condemn it strongly," said Arif Nizami, President of the CPNE.

According to Najam Sethi, Editor-in-Chief of daily Aaj Kal, elements from the Lal Masjid in Islamabad raised slogans against the daily, its editor-in-chief and publisher after Friday prayers. They accused them of being anti-jihad and threatened to "teach them a lesson", he added.

MINISTER: Federal Minister for Information Sherry Rehman also condemned the threatening phone calls and messages by extremist vigilantes to the daily in Islamabad and Lahore.

"The era of non-state actors trying to intimidate public, media and civil society has to be challenged now. This is a democratic government and we will not sit back and watch while attacks are aimed at our fundamental freedoms," she said.

She said hurling threats was an offence on two counts. "Firstly, it is a direct challenge to the safety and security of the public and, secondly, it is a threat against the freedom of the media - either way there is no room for such acts in a democratic order," the minister said.

Ms Rehman assured the publication that the government would provide complete protection to their offices.

HRCP: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also expressed concerns over the threats to the newspaper.

In a statement, the HRCP said that threats were deplorable and those seeking justice for themselves must respect freedoms of others.

"The HRCP believes that it's the obligation of the government to protect its citizens and particularly the media from being browbeaten," it said.

It is neither the right nor the privilege of anyone, including victims, from being protected from criticism of the press. It is the duty of the press to place facts before the people and their professional right to project diverse opinions.

"The HRCP urges the government to take all necessary steps to protect journalists and to issue a clear warning to all those who incite violence and perpetrate human right abuses," the statement said.