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27 IFEX members express concern about state of emergency measures against the media during political crisis

(PPF/IFEX) - The following is a letter from PPF and 26 other IFEX members to President Pervez Musharraf:

General Pervez Musharraf
President
President's Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92 51 922 1422/4768, +92 51 920 1893/1835
E-mail: See: http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/WTPresidentMessage.aspx

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned freedom of expression organizations, are deeply concerned by the draconian curbs imposed on the Pakistani media as part of the state of emergency declared by you on 3 November 2007.

The government of Pakistan has placed sweeping legal restrictions on media freedoms by amending laws relating to the electronic as well as the print media. The Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) itself, which has replaced the constitution of the country, specifically suspends Article 19 relating to freedom of the press.

In addition, the government has introduced two separate ordinances imposing severe curbs on print and electronic media that give government officials the authority to take unilateral action against media organizations. Under the new amendments government officials can suspend publication of a newspaper for up to thirty days and have the authority to confiscate equipment of radio and television channels and to seal their premises for up to thirty days.

Owners and operators of radio and television channels who violate the amended electronic media laws can be punished by up to three years in jail and a fine of 10 million rupees (approx. US$164,000) or both. Cable operators found to be in violation of the ordinance can be punished by a jail term of one year and a fine of five million rupees (approx. US$82,000) or both.

Immediately after the imposition of the state of emergency the government machinery acted aggressively to curb freedom of expression in the country. Some of these actions include:
- Indefinite suspension of broadcasts of all international and national private television news channels, as well as most national private sports and entertainment channels. Cable operators have been directed to only distribute entertainment channels approved by the authorities.
- Blockage of a number of websites of international and national news organizations on November 3.
- Blockage of telephone and SMS service in the capital city of Islamabad for some hours on November 3.
- Raids on a private television channel, two private FM radio stations and the printing press of one daily newspaper.
- Confiscation of the equipment of one radio station.
- Warning by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to a daily newspaper that action may be taken under the recent amendments to the law if the paper does not follow "certain parameters in reporting news and views".
- Appointment of government officials to monitor the contents of 21 newspapers.
- Attacks, detention and arrests by law enforcement agencies of journalists covering protests against the imposition of the state of emergency.

The actions referred to above are incompatible with the existence of a free media and present a picture of an alarming deterioration in the freedom of expression environment in Pakistan.

We urge you to immediately withdraw the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and the State of Emergency and to also withdraw recent amendments to the laws relating to print and electronic media that place unacceptable restrictions on media in Pakistan.

We also urge you to immediately end all restrictions on the broadcasts by private television channels and radio stations, and to end the harassment of journalists and media organizations.

Signed,

Africa Free Media Foundation, Kenya
Article 19, United Kingdom
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), United States
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network, United States
Centro de Periodismo y Ética Pública (CEPET), Mexico
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), Ethiopia
Freedom House, United States
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Initiative for Freedom of Expression, Turkey
Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
Independent Journalism Center Moldova (IJC), Moldova
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Mizzima News, India/Burma
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Somalia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
PEN American Centre, United States
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France
South East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

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