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Journalists barred from covering senate elections

(PPF/IFEX) - On 4 March 2009, journalists were barred from covering the proceedings of senate elections from the press gallery of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Assembly.

Security officials stopped journalists from entering the assembly hall soon after the polling began. The outraged journalists shouted slogans and staged a sit-in outside the main entrance of the assembly building. According to press reports, the speaker and chief secretary said this was being done on the orders of the higher authorities.

During the presidential elections in 2008, a number of senate members belonging to the ruling coalition were caught on TV cameras showing their ballot papers to Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and Provincial Minister of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Zahir Shah. Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and former Chief Minister Pir Sabir Shah said that the government wanted to take advantage of media absence to do horse trading. He said that this was a shameful act on the part of the government.

PML-N Member of Provincial Assembly Shazia Orangzaib also alleged that the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) was involved in horse trading during the senate polls. She alleged that members of NWFP Assembly showed their votes to each other before casting, adding that this also happened in the presidential elections.

Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) President Muhammad Riaz and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Peshawar Press Club President Shamim Shahid condemned the ban on journalists and deemed it a direct attack on press freedom. KhUJ also announced a boycott of the rest of the assembly's session from 5 March on.

PFUJ strongly condemned the ban and said it is condemnable to prevent print and electronic media including the state-controlled Pakistan Television from showing the visuals of members casting votes in the senate elections.

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