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Pakistan clamps down on media freedom

IFJ Condemns Cancellation of Newspapers' Publication Permits in Pakistan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries, has condemned the cancellation of the permits of four newspapers in Pakistan under the Press and Publication Ordinance.

On August 15, the Sindh government cancelled the publication permit of Weekly Wajood, Weekly Friday Special, Weekly Zarb-e-Momin and the Daily Zarb-e-Islam.

The newspapers have been accused of publishing 'hate material', or material that can create hatred among different religious sects. The papers have denied these charges, and the government has not put forth any evidence against these papers in the court of law. Mohammad Tahir, editor of Weekly Wajood was arrested in July on trumped up charges and continues to remain in jail.

The IFJ joins its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in strongly condemning this latest action of the government, terming it a direct attack on the freedom of the press.

"The enactment of the Press and Publication Ordinance, 2002, raised serious concerns about its utility and potential for misuse," said IFJ President Christopher Warren

"The present slew of permit cancellations is evidence that the government intends to use this law to muzzle the press," said the IFJ President.

Ironically, the cancellation of the permits came only three days after the statement of the Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ibad and Sindh Interior Minister Rauf Siddiqui that all the cases against journalists registered since 1947, would be withdrawn.

"That the governor's assurances have remained unfulfilled comes as no surprise, since he had given a similar assurance to withdraw the case against reporter Afzal Nadeem of Urdu daily Awam, in February," added Warren.

There has been an on-going campaign of false legal cases to harass journalists.

In May, the government registered cases against the reporter, editor and publisher of daily Awam and English Daily News, for allegedly misreporting the timing of a police encounter.

In July, police banned Zarb-e-Momin and arrested assistant editor of Friday Special, Abdul Latif Abu Shamel, four newspaper employees and 38 newspaper vendors.

In the same month, police and security agencies detained reporter of The Star, Rashid Channa, for 12 hours without any charge. According to IFJ sources, authorities targeted Channa after he wrote critical reports about the Chief Minister of Sindh, Arbab Rahim. Following his release, police registered a case of attempted murder against Channa, which is still pending.

"All attempts to curb freedom of the press must be resisted. Mohammad Tahir must be immediately released and the notification of cancellation of publication permits against Wajood, Friday Special, Zarb-e-Momin and Zarb-e-Islam must be withdrawn forthwith," said the IFJ President.

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