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Gang raids Karachi Press Club as attacks on journalists continue

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 16 March 2008 IFJ media release:

"Threat to Life" of Journalists in Karachi Sparks IFJ Call for Urgent Action over Political Intimidation

The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Pakistan government and police to take "immediate and urgent" action within 24 hours to protect reporters in Karachi who are victims of a violent campaign by political activists.

The IFJ raised the issue yesterday [15 March] in a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf and are now demanding urgent intervention following a briefing in Islamabad today from concerned leaders of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, who say reporters' lives are at risk.

"It's clear that political groups that lost out in recent elections are blaming journalists for their woes," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, who is leading an IFJ mission to Pakistan. "Making media scapegoats for their failure is one thing, but it is scandalous that so far police and the authorities have stood by without providing our colleagues with proper protection. They must act now before there are tragic consequences."

The IFJ appeal follows a week of confrontation in Karachi that has seen a series of assaults and kidnappings of journalists. On March 13, cameramen and journalists were attacked, chased and beaten while reporting on a demonstration organised by the women's movement of the Mohjir Quami Movement (MQM-H) outside the Karachi Press Club, according to the PFUJ. A media driver was taken hostage by armed protesters, who warned journalists not to broadcast video footage.

Yesterday evening the intimidation continued when a gang, who arrived on motorcycles, raided the Press Club demanding to know the whereabouts of local union officials.

The IFJ raised the issue directly with President Musharraf in a meeting with him in Rawalpindi yesterday and complained of a lack of action by police and Karachi state authorities. The IFJ says that impunity in attacks on media must be challenged by bringing those responsible to justice.

"There is a clear duty of care here and the state must protect our colleagues," said White.

The mission also includes Sunanda Deshapriya, from Sri Lanka, and Mike Dobbie, from Australia. Over the past few days they have met with members of the caretaker government, leaders of the new coalition government, journalists' unions and associations and media publishing houses to encourage fresh initiatives for a new chapter in relations between journalism, the state and civil society.

"The first priority is the safety and security of journalists," said White. "We are pleased that on all sides people assure us there is commitment to change, but our colleagues in Karachi want to see action now to end the intimidation of journalists in the country."

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

Updates alert on attack on journalists during demonstration in front of Karachi Press Club: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91618/

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