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Pakistan's largest media group under threat as its staff faces increasing intimidation

Pakistani journalists chant slogans during a protest, called by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ), against the attack on television anchorperson Hamid Mir, outside the press club in Islamabad, 21 April 2014
Pakistani journalists chant slogans during a protest, called by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ), against the attack on television anchorperson Hamid Mir, outside the press club in Islamabad, 21 April 2014

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Jang/Geo, Pakistan's largest media group, says that incidents of intimidation of its staff have increased to an alarming level since the April 19 attack on the group's television anchor, Hamid Mir. This allegation was made in a letter addressed to the country's top civil and military leaders, including the army chief and interior and information ministers.

The media house urged the civil and military leaders to instruct the relevant police officers all over Pakistan to meet with members of Jang/Geo management and discuss what security steps need to be taken immediately.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the home secretaries, top police officials and director generals of the Rangers and Inter Services Public Relations.

In the letter, Geo further said that its employees including female staff, contributors, distributors and editorial writers are being followed, and have received threatening letters. They fear they could be attacked as the media group has been accused of being anti-state and anti-army.

Geo's Karachi Bureau Chief, who was staying at the AKU [Aga Khan University] folowing the attack on Hamid Mir, was constantly followed and called a "traitor". When he confronted his follower, he was told "It's our job to keep an eye on you," the letter explains.

Geo cameraman Asif Kabeer was attacked and severely beaten on April 29 as he was going to cover the Jamat-ud-Dawa and Al-Muhammadia Students rally in support of the Pakistan Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in Rawalpindi. Assailants reportedly "called him an Indian agent and threatened to kill him." In another incident, the residence of Imdad Soomro, investigative reporter for The News, was attacked and burnt on April 30 in Sehwan, Sindh.

The group chief executive's car was also attacked when he visited his lawyer. As he entered the office of his lawyer, some people on motorcycles tried to smash the car window with iron bars and stones and sped away.

An editorial writer for The News, which belongs to the same media group, received a phone call at 4 am on April 30 in Islamabad; he was told to stop writing for the paper and threatened with dire consequences if he didn't stop. He also found an envelope slipped under the door containing the same threat. The same letter was delivered to his Karachi residence as well.

A large number of Jang Group newspaper hawkers have been denied access to many localities and have been told not to carry and deliver Jang or The News. Similarly, many newspaper agents in Sindh and Punjab provinces have received telephone calls ordering them to stop selling 'Ghaddar' (traitor) newspapers, the letter said.

On April 30, the Geo office in Islamabad was surrounded by an unruly mob. They chanted slogans accusing the channel of being anti-state. Some of the people were seen carrying petrol bottles. The slogans rose as the channel is anti-state, anti-army, traitors and Wajibul Qatal (liable to be killed) while the police stood by and took no action.

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