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Armed activists attack private television channel

(PPF/IFEX) - Aaj TV, a leading television channel in Pakistan, came under gunfire attack for almost six hours on 12 May 2007 during clashes between government supporters and opposition activists that took the lives of 36 persons in Karachi, the country's largest city. The attackers also set ablaze vehicles in the parking lot of the television network. Elsewhere in the city, a number of journalists and cameramen came under attack from security forces and activists.

Pakistan has been facing civil unrest since 9 March, when President General Pervez Musharraf suspended the country's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The violent incidents of 12 May were sparked by the visit of the Chief Justice to Karachi, where he was to address the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Sindh High Court.

Aaj TV was broadcasting live footage of activists brandishing guns and firing at their rivals in front of the offices of the television network. This infuriated the activists who turned their guns on the offices of the television channel, shattering windowpanes and causing panic among the staff. Camera operators and journalists in the building took cover under their desks. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the network remained on air uninterrupted.

According to press reports, the network's chief executive Arshad Zuberi said activists of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the main coalition party in provincial government, wanted the live coverage of the unrest in the city to be stopped. He held the party responsible for the attack. A spokesperson for the MQM denied the party's involvement in the attack.

Law enforcement agencies failed to provide security although the television channel broadcast many appeals for protection. The gunfire, which started at around 12:30 p.m. (local time), continued for about six hours until paramilitary rangers and police forces arrived at the scene.

Several media organisations, including the Pakistan Broadcasting Association (PBA) Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) strongly condemned the attack.

A press release issued by PBA said the "blatant attack on media" was a matter of serious concern, as law enforcement agencies were "totally absent".

Shamim ur Rehman, president of Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) termed this attack as an attempt by the government to silence the media that was informing the people about different facets of the on going judicial crisis.

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