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BBC and AFP correspondents, ARY television staff and relatives among dozens arrested, attacked in media crackdown

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF firmly condemns a crackdown by the security forces on the privately-owned news media. Dozens of journalists have been detained, attacked or prevented from working. Transmission equipment has been seized from several broadcast media. New regulations on newspapers and broadcast media promulgated on 3 November 2007 are a death warrant for some of the privately-owned TV and radio news stations that emerged in recent years.

On 5 November, police tried to close down the printing works of the Jang media group in the southern city of Karachi. Staff refused to stop the printing of one of the group's newspapers, "Awam" (People), which had a supplement on events since the state of emergency was proclaimed. This attempt to censor Awam was thwarted by the actions of the group's management and employees.

Around the same time, police arrested at least five photographers and a cameraman as they were covering a demonstration by human rights activists outside the Karachi Press Club. A BBC correspondent was also arrested yesterday near the home of a Karachi judge as he was trying to take photos. The police erased the shots he had taken. And in Quetta, a police officer smashed an Agence France-Presse reporter's camera as he was covering a demonstration.

On 4 November the police went to the offices of Aaj television station in Islamabad and tried to seize transmission equipment and a truck used for live outside broadcasts. The police also surrounded the studios of radio station FM 99.

Sattar Kakar, the privately-owned ARY television's bureau chief in the southwestern city of Quetta, and his cameraman were held for several hours on 3 November. The next day, the security forces searched ARY's offices in the southern city of Sukkur, arresting the bureau chief's two brothers and threatening employees.

Before the state of emergency was proclaimed, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) members raided the studios of radio station FM 103 in Islamabad on 3 November. At the behest of Rana Altaf, a PEMRA official, some 30 policemen surrounded the station and confiscated broadcast equipment.

"For the past three days, Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been destroying all the press freedom gains, one by one," the organisation said. "Pakistan's media, especially privately-owned TV, radio stations and independent newspapers, are in danger of losing any possibility of disseminating independent news as a result of the military offensive."

RSF added: "We support demonstrations by journalists' unions and news media calling for an end to the crackdown on the press and the state of emergency. The international community must not remain indifferent to this programmed murder of Pakistan's media."

After declaring a state of emergency, Gen. Musharraf modified the 2002 Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance and the 2002 Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance.

According to the copies of the amendments obtained by RSF:
- all the media are now forbidden to broadcast video footage of suicide bombers or terrorists, or statements by militants and extremists;
- express opinions prejudicial to the ideology, sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan;
- incite violence or hatred or any action prejudicial to maintenance of law and order;
- broadcast anything that brings the president, armed forces or state institutions into ridicule;
- refer to any matter that is sub-judice;
- broadcast anything that could be false or baseless.

If the new regulations are violated, the government is given full powers to seize newspapers, while the PEMRA is given similar powers to confiscate equipment from broadcast media. Media owners face up to three years in prison and a fine of 10 million rupees (approx. US$164,000), or both. Pakistani radio and television stations are also banned from signing broadcast agreements with foreign news media without PEMRA's permission, while cable operators and distributors can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for breaking the new rules.

Under national and international pressure, the government had to abandon its plans to tighten the rules for the broadcast media last June, but the repressive changes have been forced through this time.

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