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Media personnel assaulted, detained while covering protest at jail

(PPF/IFEX) - Four journalists were injured and at least five others were detained by personnel from the district jail while covering a protest by inmates in the Faisalabad district of Punjab on 6 November 2009.

The injured media personnel included Farhanullah Chaudhary, a camera operator for Geo TV, his assistants Muhammad Sajid and Muhammad Nasir, and Nadir Hussain Maan, a camera operator for ARY News. The detained journalists included Irfanullah, a correspondent for Geo TV, Ishfaq Hashmi, a reporter for Samaa TV, Khadim Gill and Shehroz Ebad, both reporters for Dunya TV, and Tanveer Haider Abbas, a reporter for Indus News.

According to a press report, the prisoners staged a demonstration inside the jail at about 4:30 p.m. against the alleged high-handedness of jail officials. The jail officials then fired tear gas canisters at the prisoners and beat them back with their batons.

Chaudhary told PPF that the jail personnel assaulted him and his assistants Sajid and Nasir with the butts of their guns, damaged their camera and seized their belongings, including cash, two cell phones and documents, and then took them into the jail.

Other reporters who rushed to the site, including Maan, Irfanullah, Hashmi, Gill, Ebad, and Abbas were abused, manhandled and detained by a dozen jail guards. Irfanullah told PPF that they were detained in the jail for about one hour and that Maan was assaulted.

Gill said the jail officials used abusive language against them and a deputy superintendent forced them to sign documents saying that nobody had assaulted or detained them. The journalists asked the officials to transfer Sajid to a hospital as his condition was serious but the officials refused to allow an ambulance that was outside the jail to be used. After some time, Civil Lines Police Station House Officer (SHO) Asmatullah intervened and secured the release of the journalists.

Chaudhary said he suffered injuries to his neck and back, while Sajid's ribs were fractured; Nasir suffered injuries to his backbone, and Maan's shoulders were injured. Sajid and Maan were later transferred to the Faisalabad DHQ Hospital.

After hearing about the incident, a number of journalists rushed to the jail and staged a protest, chanting slogans against prison officials.

The journalists blocked the road to the jail for three hours, demanding that jail superintendent Khan and other officials be suspended. Commissioner Tahir Hussain ordered a probe into the incident and appointed Assistant Commissioner (General) Shafqat Ullah Mushtaque as the officer in charge of the investigation, but the journalists refused to lift the blockade and insisted on immediate action. The home secretary subsequently ordered the transfer of jail superintendent Khan.

Syed Ziker Allah Hassani, vice president of the Faisalabad Union of Journalists (FUJ), and Shahid Ali, president of the Faisalabad Press Club, strongly condemned the attack. They also lodged a complaint against the jail officials.

According to a press report, Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Khwaja Mohammad Sharif took note of the incident on 7 November and directed sessions judge Mehmood Maqbool Bajwa to investigate the matter. The sessions judge recorded statements given by the jail officials and journalists and recovered two of the journalist's cell phones that had been seized by jail employees. Gill said the journalists provided the judge with footage of the incident to assist in the investigation.

The judge also visited the DHQ Hospital where the critically injured Sajid and Nadir were being treated.

On 10 November, Chief Justice Sharif directed the Faisalabad police to open a case against the jail officials who allegedly assaulted the journalists.

The chief justice also directed Faisalabad Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Muhammad Tahir to complete the investigation within 14 days and submit a report. The LHC summoned prisons Inspector General Kokab Nadeem Warraich, Prison Department Law Officer Raja Abdul Qayyum, jail superintendent Khan and the Faisalabad DIG to appear in court.

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