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Media outlets and journalists under attack

A protester hurled shoes at Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in Birmingham, UK, on Saturday, outraged by Zardari's inadequate response to the untold suffering of flood victims in Pakistan. The President's party took matters into its own hands and shut down media outlets carrying the story in Pakistan, with armed government supporters and police violently repressing press freedom, report the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

President Zardari was at a Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) rally on 7 August during a visit to the United Kingdom when the shoes were flung at him. The Pakistani community abroad and at home is angered by his visit to Europe when the country is dealing with the disaster of continuing floods, says IFJ.

GEO TV and ARY News had just aired the shoe story when their broadcasts were blocked on 8 August, sparking protests countrywide on both sides of the issue. That same night, government supporters demonstrated outside the station's facilities. When some cable operators refused to obey the ban, gunmen were sent to fire at their staff and offices, says one local journalist.

Offices of two other cable operators in Karachi were torched by PPP activists, backed by a contingent of police, after operators refused to shut down transmissions of GEO TV and ARY News. After armed PPP activists attacked the Reno Cable Network offices in Karachi and assaulted its staff, the cable operator was forced to block its transmissions.

In addition, PPP activists stole and burned copies of the GEO-associated "Jang" and "The News" newspapers in Karachi and other parts of the country, and threats were issued that delivery vans would be incinerated. On 10 August, newspapers continued to be burned, and one delivery van driver was assaulted.

Cable operators that defied demonstrations and returned to the air were struck by a wave of protesters and many had their distribution cables cut. ARY's deputy news director says the shutdown is not coming from the President, "This is the president's party taking the law into its own hands," reports CPJ.

Relations between the privately owned GEO News and the state have deteriorated because of the station's coverage of corruption involving President Zardari, reports RSF. On 9 August, journalists held rallies throughout the country protesting the ban.

The bans are affecting news coverage and information about relief efforts to respond to the disaster caused by severe flooding. The United Nations says the floods have now affected more victims than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined - with an estimated 14 million affected and 1,600 dead.

Meanwhile, violence against journalists has escalated in recent weeks. In an unrelated incident, GEO News reporter Anwar Kamal and his driver were shot by assailants who opened fire on their vehicle in Hyderabad, Sindh province on 24 July. Two days later, attackers threw grenades and opened fire on a home in the Bajaur tribal region linked to television correspondent Zafarullah Bonari, who works for ARY One World Television and Al-Jazeera. Bonari was not in the house; he had moved to Peshawar because he felt he was in danger. At least six women and children were seriously injured. And on 22 July, Sarfraz Wistro, reporter for the "Daily Ibrat" newspaper, was beaten unconscious by five men near his home in Hyderabad.

Pakistan ranks with Mexico as the two most dangerous countries for journalists, according to RSF.

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