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Outspoken TV programme host arrested on government's orders

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of Mohammed Naseer Fayyaz, the host of the programme "Haqeeqat" (The Truth) on privately-owned Ariana TV, who was arrested on 28 July 2008 by members of the Directorate for National Security (DNS) at the government's behest.

"Harsh comments were made on the air about two ministers and the president but the government is making a mistake when it arrests the host of an outspoken current affairs programme," Reporters Without Borders said. "In a democracy, government ministers are not supposed to take justice into their own hands. It is up to the courts to decide whether someone is guilty of a crime."

The press freedom organisation added: "This latest incident is indicative of the growing tension between the press and the government, especially the ministry of information and culture."

Fayyaz was arrested on 28 July after going to DNS headquarters in response to a summons. The head of Ariana TV told Agence France-Presse that he got an SMS message from Fayyaz soon after he left for the DNS saying: "I have been arrested." He was allegedly hit at the time of his arrest. There has been no news of him since then.

Fayyaz was very critical of the government on the air the previous day, describing trade minister Mohammad Amin Farhang and energy minister Mohammad Ismail Khan as thieves. Police officers rushed to the TV station and stopped his programme half way through.

Fayyaz has been threatened in the past by parliamentarians, including former warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.

His arrest followed a government meeting earlier on 28 July in which both Fayyaz and the financing of privately-owned TV stations were discussed. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the meeting minutes. They say: "Certain broadcast and print media accuse and insult national figures such as ministers, for example in yesterday's 'Haqeeqat' programme by Mohammed Naseer Fayyaz."

The minutes continue: "The Cabinet envisages that individuals like him and all those in the media who make baseless allegations will be prosecuted at the request of the minister of information and culture (. . .) The minister of information and culture provided a report on the financial situation of the privately-owned TV stations. It turns out that there are irregularities in their accounts."

Reporters Without Borders urges the government to act with the utmost transparency and honesty in its new policy of controlling the activities of the privately-owned TV stations.

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