In Midst of Crisis, Musharraf Cracks Down on the Press

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s crackdown on domestic and foreign journalists following the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan in fall 2007 has showed no signs of abating even during the Feb. 18, 2008 parliamentary elections that resulted in a resounding defeat for Musharraf’s party at the polls.

On Nov. 3, 2007, Musharraf suspended Pakistan’s constitution and imposed martial law shortly before an anticipated Supreme Court ruling determining whether his reelection to Pakistan’s presidency was legal, according to a Nov. 5, 2007 Associated Press (AP) story. Musharraf simultaneously instituted several restrictions on press freedom in Pakistan, including blacking out TV networks and threatening to jail journalists. Broadcasts by international television networks like the BBC and CNN went off the air. The state of emergency was lifted December 15, but journalists still face formal restrictions and intimidation from the government, according to reports.

On Nov. 3, 2007, Musharraf promulgated amendments to Pakistan’s ordinances on the print and broadcast media which allow the government to sentence a journalist to three years in prison for defaming the head of state, members of the armed forces, and members of the executive, legislative, or judicial organs of the state, according to a Nov. 4, 2007 Hindustan Times (India) story.

The amendments to the Registration of Printing and Publication Ordinance, RPPO-2002, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, PEMRA-2002, also provide for punishments which can lead to the suspension of a newspaper’s publication for up to 30 days and fines of up to 10 million rupees, or approximately $163,343, according to the Hindustan Times.

Musharraf’s power to promulgate ordinances stems from Article 89 of Pakistan’s constitution, which allows the president to promulgate ordinances that have the same force and effect as an act of parliament. Any ordinance promulgated by the president expires at the end of four months, or earlier, if the National Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral legislature, or both houses of Parliament (depending on the content of the ordinance), pass a resolution repealing it, according to Article 89. However, Musharraf’s Provisional Constitution Order No. 1 of 2007 issued on November 3, following the Proclamation of Emergency which imposed martial law, contains a provision that allows the president to extend the life of ordinances indefinitely. Section 5(1) of the Constitution Order states that “An Ordinance promulgated by the President ... shall not be subject to any limitations as to duration prescribed in the Constitution.” This provision means that Musharraf’s amendments to the press ordinances will not expire at the end of four months.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a Dec. 18, 2007 story that although Musharraf’s decision to lift the state of emergency on Dec. 15, 2007, restored the Pakistani constitution’s Article 19, which protects freedom of expression, broadcast media organizations were still required to sign a code of conduct promulgated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. The IFJ story is available on the group’s Web site at http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5624&Language=EN. The code of conduct formalized many of the curbs on press freedom contained in Musharraf’s amendments to the media ordinances after November 3, according to Human Rights Watch on Feb. 16, 2008.

Pakistani television network Aaj TV was taken off the air by the government a few days after the imposition of the state of emergency, according to a Jan. 24, 2008 “Frontline” story available at PBS’ Web site at http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/blog/2008/01/pakistan_blacko.html. Aaj TV News Director Talat Hussain’s political talk show, “Live With Talat” was among the shows that went off air on November 5. Hussain told PBS that the policemen who confiscated Aaj TV’s satellite equipment told him that broadcasters were inciting riots by showing footage of protests against the state of emergency, according to “Frontline.”

“We were exceedingly critical of the many fallibilities of this government, run by President Musharraf” Hussain said. “And we were raising issues, which of course didn’t sit well with Musharraf. These were issues of the rule of law and the constitution – words that Musharraf is not particularly fond of.”

Hussain’s show resumed broadcasting in mid-January after negotiations with the government, “Frontline” reported. However Hussain said that the show now cannot criticize the government or Musharraf directly.

Geo TV, Pakistan’s largest private television network, was also forced off the air for 77 days by the government following the imposition of the state of emergency, according to a Feb. 16, 2008 Human Rights Watch report available on its Web site at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/16/pakist18088.htm.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of Geo TV, told Human Rights Watch that he had received a threatening phone call in the middle of the night from an operative of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. He was taken to an ISI safe house and told to comply with Pakistan’s new laws legalizing restrictions on press freedom, Human Rights Watch reported.

The Paris-based free-press advocacy group Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders or RSF) found that journalists have also faced physical intimidation by the police, even after the state of emergency was lifted on December 15, according to a Jan. 9, 2008 story available on RSF’s Web site at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24976.

RSF also reported that lawsuits have been a tool for intimidating the press. Thirty-four journalists in the Pakistani province of Sindh have been accused of rioting following the Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. Ten of the 34 journalists, according to RSF’s January 9 story, have been arrested and held under anti-terrorism laws.

“They brought a complaint against me because of my critical articles,” Javed Kalroo from the daily newspaper Tameer-e-Sindh told RSF. “I had nothing to do with the riots.”

Musharraf criticized the domestic Pakistani press in visits to Europe in early 2008, claiming that the press is responsible for misperceptions of Pakistan abroad, according to a Jan. 22, 2008 story in Dawn newspaper, an English daily in Pakistan.

Dawn reported that Musharraf told the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament in Brussels on Jan. 21, 2008 that the Pakistani media were to blame for creating “negative perceptions” about Pakistan. In response to a question about curbs on press freedoms asked by IFJ, Musharraf stated that “There are no limits on the freedom of the press.”

On Jan. 25, 2008, in a visit to London, Musharraf threatened a London correspondent for Dawn, M. Ziauddin, and questioned his patriotism, in an incident reported by Human Rights Watch in a Feb. 16, 2008 story. Later that day, addressing a gathering of 800 Pakistanis at a dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane in London, Musharraf referred to the incident and urged his audience to refuse to allow “such individuals” to get away with unpatriotic behavior. In Urdu, Musharraf stated, “I think it might be good if you even give them a punch or two.” The statement was broadcast on Pakistani television, according to Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan’s privately-owned broadcast stations were barred from reporting on the parliamentary elections on Feb. 18, 2008, according to a Bloomberg News story available at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=adx7TArVY34Y&refer=home. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority banned broadcasters from real time reporting on election results while the polls were open, and also banned them from interviewing candidates until the polls had closed. Television channels were also prohibited from live coverage of political parties and events, according to the February 18 Bloomberg story.

“We are being told to report what the government wants us to report,” Mazhar Abbas, secretary of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists told Bloomberg News. “We have never experienced such harsh restrictions.”

International journalists have also faced reprisals from the Pakistani government for their reporting. On Jan. 11, 2008, freelance journalist Nicholas Schmidle, a U.S. citizen, was forced to leave Pakistan, RSF reported in a January 13 story available on its Web site at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25018.

Schmidle speculates that he was forced to leave Pakistan because of his story for the January 6 issue of The New York Times Magazine, “Next-Gen Taliban,” which he said may have antagonized Pakistani officials, according to a Jan. 11, 2008 blog post by Steven C. Clemons on his blog “The Washington Note” at http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/002700.php.

According to the January 11 blog post, Schmidle interviewed individuals for his story from Quetta, Pakistan, where the Taliban are apparently operating in public without reprisal from the Pakistani government. According to the blog post, some believe Pakistani officials may have been angered by media coverage demonstrating that government authorities have adopted a policy of non-interference with the Taliban’s presence in Quetta.

Schmidle was given a deportation order by ISI operatives who visited his home, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organization dedicated to defending press freedom, in a Jan. 11, 2008 story available on CPJ’s Web site at http://www.cpj.org/news/2008/asia/pak11jan08na.html. Schmidle’s editors at The New York Times Magazine told CPJ they believe the order, which was dated Dec. 29, 2007, before Schmidle’s story ran in the magazine, was back-dated and issued after his story was published.

Schmidle told CPJ that he was “extremely disappointed at being asked to leave Pakistan,” and stated that his visa had no restrictions.

An unidentified Pakistani information ministry official told Reuters for a Jan. 12, 2008 story that Schmidle did not have a journalist visa. “He was on a two-year fellowship here and had visited sensitive areas in Baluchistan without permission and did reporting. He was not on a journalist visa,” the official said.

Reuters also reported that three journalists from the Daily Telegraph of London were expelled from Pakistan following the November 3 state of emergency. The reporters were given 72 hours to leave Pakistan after the Telegraph published an editorial on Nov. 9, 2007 criticizing the U.S. and Britain’s relationship with Musharraf. The editorial referred to Musharraf as “our sonofabitch” and stated that he is a “combination of incompetence and brutality,” according to a Nov. 10, 2007 story with a joint CBS News/AP byline.

According to a November 12 story in The Guardian of London, Musharraf said he was “shocked” by the editorial and expected an apology from the Telegraph.

– Amba Datta
Silha Research Assistant

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 14, 2009 3:34 PM.

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