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Reporter dismissed for refusing to recant statement critical of local authorities

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Newspaper's Dismissal of Union Leader

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has learnt with great dismay of the dismissal of Shahzad Hussain Butt, senior reporter of the Aaj Kal Urdu newspaper in Lahore, for reasons directly connected with his activities as president of the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ).

According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate, Butt was asked explicitly by the management of his newspaper, part of the Media Times group of publications, to disown a PUJ statement that was critical of the Governor of Punjab. On his refusal, Butt was told that he should cease reporting for work.

The PFUJ disputes the statement of Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the Media Times group, that Butt was relieved of his responsibilities because he was known to be negotiating for a position with a private TV channel.

Meanwhile, Aaj Kal editor Khalid Chaudhary has reportedly said on record that Butt has neither been dismissed nor asked to resign.

The Governor, Salman Taseer, owns a majority stake in the Media Times group. On November 17, a television channel aired clips of a televised conversation during which Taseer attacked the Pakistan media. The media, he said, had become a "monster" that had "crossed all limits" and would not allow "any government to work smoothly". He went on to suggest that certain news anchors would have been "handcuffed and arrested" had they been in a western country.

The following day, the PUJ and the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), both major constituent unions of the PFUJ, issued separate statements strongly critical of Taseer's comments. As president of the PUJ, Butt termed the Governor's statements a clear attack on press freedom, reminiscent of the days of the military regime led by Pervez Musharraf that Taseer had supported.

The Media Times management action against Butt followed.

"The IFJ condemns action by the Media Times management to dismiss a reporter for his statements as a union representative," said IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"An essential component of a free and independent press is that media owners accept in good faith the right of their employees to their own views. The dismissal of Butt strikes at the roots of the basic rights to freedom of opinion and association in Pakistan."

In other news from Pakistan this week, the PFUJ reported that the Sindh provincial government withdrew notification of a ban on the daily Islam and weekly Zarb-e-Momin after a PFUJ appeal.

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

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