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Authorities move to arrest journalists' unions over pamphlets, placards condemning anti-media ordinances

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 3 December 2007 IFJ media release:

IFJ condemns attempt to silence Pakistan unions

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the initiation by authorities of a complaint to police in Islamabad against the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and its subsidiary union, the Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ).

According to the PFUJ, an IFJ affiliate, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against the two unions at Aabpara police station in Islamabad on 29 November. The report refers to the display of placards and distribution of pamphlets during a protest on November 14 against anti-media ordinances imposed by President Pervez Musharraf since 3 November. The materials allegedly contain anti-state sentiment.

An FIR authorises police to arrest a person without warrant and instigate a process that may lead to a criminal charge. It is the first time in Pakistan that an FIR has been issued against an organisation rather than an individual.

The PFUJ said the FIR falsely accuses the unions.

PFUJ President Huma Ali expressed serious concerns about the FIR at a meeting between the PFUJ's Federal Executive Council and the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Nisar Menon, on 2 December. Senator Menon reportedly assured the PFUJ that the FIR and all other charges laid against journalists during the state of emergency would be withdrawn.

"The case can only be withdrawn through a legal process, which the Minister has promised. But we fear that the Government wants to keep pressure on the PFUJ, as the union's campaign has been gaining momentum," the PFUJ said today.

The PFUJ has maintained a strong and open dialogue with authorities representing Pakistan's Government since emergency rule was declared. A delegation from the PFUJ met the previous Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mohammed Ali Durrani, on November 8, to discuss the clampdown on media outlets across the country. The delegates were promised that transmissions of private broadcasters would be reinstated shortly, but GEO television and several radio stations remain blocked.

"It is imperative that the authorities honour their promises and commitment to ensuring that press freedom is not a casualty of Pakistan's political crisis," the IFJ's Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park, said. "We welcome Senator Menon's assurance that the FIR will be dismissed and that the PFUJ will not be threatened in the future," Ms Park said.

Mr Ali said that the PFUJ intends to continue to lead the peaceful struggle for media freedom in Pakistan until two anti-media ordinances and all restrictions on media outlets are removed.

"In the 50-odd years of the union's history, journalists have braved all such tactics aimed at silencing their voices," Mr Ali said.

The IFJ extends its full support to the PFUJ in its efforts to support journalists' rights and media freedom across Pakistan while maintaining an open and professional dialogue with government authorities.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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