The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, has expressed outrage over the banning of a new publication, the Daily Islamabad Times on the eve of its launch and the arrest of the proprietor and three other workers of the printing press.
On 31 August 2004, personnel of a secret service agency along with local police raided the printing press of the Urdu-language paper about to be launched on 6 September, seized newspaper copies, printing plates and other press material. The proprietor of the printing press, Malik Abdul Aziz, his son Aamir and two other workers were also arrested when they refused to stop the printing of the paper.
According to reports, all necessary authorisation from administrative officials to launch the paper had already been obtained. The ban is possibly linked to the Federal Government's displeasure at Masood Malik, the editor of the newspaper, who had angered President Pervez Musharraf three years ago at a press conference. Malik, then chief reporter of the right-wing Urdu daily Nawa-i-Waqt challenged Pakistani President General Musharraf, who had just returned from the Indo-Pakistan summit in Agra, India, by asking if it wouldn't have been easier for a democratically elected head of state to obtain an agreement with the Government of India. A few hours later, Malik learned that he had been removed from the newspaper's investigation desk.
Government officials have refused to comment on the ban of the Daily Islamabad Times.
The IFJ reminded the Pakistan Government that in January 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression stated in very clear terms that "imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."
This attempt to muzzle the free press comes days after the passing of the controversial Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2004 in the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house of Parliament on 19 August, despite objections from the Opposition. The Bill, mainly designed to protect public figures from slander by increasing punishment for offenders, including imprisonment of up to five years and/or a minimum fine of 100,000 rupees (approx. US$1,700), has serious implications for professional journalists and press freedom.
"The changes to the Defamation Ordinance 2002 are firmly outside the parameters of what could be described as having an appropriate and rational relationship between the relevant harm and the amount of damages awarded," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
"Journalists must be allowed to fulfil their journalistic duty, free from fear of arrest, physical violence or repression, and the relevant authorities must recognise the important role that journalists play," said Warren.
Warren demanded that the authorities immediately lift the ban on the Daily Islamabad Times, release those arrested and urged that the government ensure the protection of workers and journalists associated with the newspaper.
Finally, the IFJ called on the Government of Pakistan to immediately desist from disregarding journalists' human rights, including the most basic right to report freely without fear of persecution.
For more information please contact Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries