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Ten IFEX members urge President Musharraf to address deteriorating free expression situation

(PPF/IFEX) - The following is a PPF-led joint letter to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf from IFEX members:

General Pervez Musharraf
President's Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 922 1422/4768, +92 51 920 1893/1835
E-mail: ( See: )

Dear Mr. President,

We, freedom of expression organizations, are deeply concerned by the many attempts and actions aimed at intimidating Pakistan's electronic media outlets and journalists who have been covering the protest campaign following the suspension of the country's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and the filing of the presidential reference against him in the Supreme Judicial Council on 9 March 2007.

On 4 June, under the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Amendment Ordinance 2007, the state was given new powers to seal the premises of broadcasters, confiscate equipment and revoke licenses. It also increased maximum fines for violations of PEMRA laws tenfold. Although the government suspended the amendments covered in the ordinance in view of severe opposition, there is a need to annul the amendments immediately, and to remove the restrictive provisions in the existing PEMRA laws, rules and regulations.

Other recent incidents have also created a more hostile environment for electronic media outlets and journalists. On 2 June, PEMRA prohibited independent TV channels from broadcasting programmes, including live talk shows and discussions on the judicial crisis, live coverage of the procession of Justice Chaudhry from Islamabad, and his address to the bar association there in Abbottabad. Two days earlier, Minister of Information of Information and Broadcasting Muhammad Ali Durrani accused the electronic media of having an "irresponsible attitude" in covering the judicial crisis and added that this negative propaganda could affect the direct foreign investment in the country and harm the nation's institutions.

These are just the latest in a series of attacks on media that have included gunfire against Aaj TV, a leading television channel in Pakistan, for almost four hours on 12 May. This incident occurred during clashes between government supporters and opposition activists that took the lives of 42 people in Karachi, the country's largest city. The attackers also set ablaze vehicles in the parking lot of the television network. Law enforcement agencies failed to provide security although the television channel broadcast live coverage of the assault on its premises and made many appeals for protection.

Another example of the unacceptable tactics used to by your government to pressure media was the police raid on the offices of the Islamabad bureau of Geo TV on 16 March. This punitive action came as the television channel was broadcasting a live report of police using rubber bullets and tear gas on demonstrators who were attempting to join lawyers protesting outside the Supreme Court.

There have also been attempts to exert legal pressure on independent media channels. On 22 April, PEMRA served a show-cause notice to Aaj TV for airing news, talk shows and other programmes on the judicial crisis in Pakistan and threatened the channel with closure. The notice said that the TV channel had violated the law by covering an issue that was pending before the Supreme Judicial Council.

Another tactic employed by authorities to harass television channels was the request to cable operators to suspend transmission of selected channels including GEO TV, Aaj TV, ARY TV and Royal TV. The transmissions of television channels have been blocked many times in various parts of the country.

A number of journalists have also been assaulted and harassed for covering the judicial crisis. For example, in May, Shakeel Turabi, chief editor of a local news agency, was brutally beaten because his news agency reported that individuals who had assaulted Justice Chaudhary were intelligence officers and not policemen, as had been claimed by the government. Turabi was warned that his name could end up on a list of missing persons.

The actions referred to above present a picture of an alarming deterioration in the freedom of expression environment in Pakistan. They also raise serious doubts about your government's often-stated commitment to freedom of expression.

We would respectfully urge you to refrain from enacting regulations that restrict freedom of expression in the country, particularly those affecting the electronic media. We also urge you to order an independent investigation into all incidents of harassment and intimidation of the media and to bring to justice those responsible for these acts.

We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.


Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Karachi
ARTICLE 19, London
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Toronto
Freedom House, New York
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Lagos
PROBIDAD, La Libertad
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Bangkok
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Manila
Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN), Burke

Mr. Muhammad Wasi Zafar
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
S Block Pakistan Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 920 2628
E-mail: [email protected]

Mr. Muhammad Ali Durrani
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting
Government of Pakistan
E-mail: [email protected]

Pakistan Press Foundation

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