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Police violently repress protesting journalists, seriously injuring five

(PPF/IFEX) - Over two dozen journalists were injured on 29 September 2007 when police resorted to teargas and a baton-charge against them outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), in an effort to clear the way for state dignitaries. Five journalists are stated to be in serious condition.

The journalists were covering the scrutiny of the nomination papers of Pakistan's presidential candidates, and had staged a sit-in outside the ECP building to protest the government's decision to bar journalists working for independent media outlets from covering the scrutiny process. Scores of lawyers protesting the candidature of President General Pervez Musharraf in the forthcoming elections were also injured in the incident.

The security forces damaged the cameras and mobile phones of the reporters and cut cables of mobile TV vans covering the incident. The police also used abusive language against the journalists.

Spokespersons of leading television channels Geo, Aaj and ARYONE said that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) blocked transmissions for several hours. Two days earlier, PEMRA had warned television channels that that some of the interviewers on TV programmes were behaving like judges and indulging in incitement.

The problem started when personnel of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and the Punjab Police suddenly started beating the protesting journalists to clear the way for the motorcade of Punjab Chief Minister Choudhry Pervaiz Elahi when he was coming out of the ECP after completion of the scrutiny process.

The Minister of State for Information, Tariq Azeem, was also roughed up when he came out of an ambulance to listen to the grievances of the protesting journalists.

Pakistan's presidential elections, scheduled for 6 October, are generating a great deal of passion on the issue of whether Musharraf can be a candidate while still holding the position of Chief of Army Staff. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in late September, dismissed petitions by lawyers and opposition parties seeking to bar Musharraf from standing in the elections

Journalists throughout Pakistan observed a "Black Day" on 30 September by organizing protest demonstrations and took out rallies condemning the brutality of the law enforcment agencies and demanding the government ensure freedom of expression and press in the country. The call for the "Black Day" was made by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of the attack on journalists and lawyers and ordered the suspension of the head of police in the city.

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