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Pakistani junta intolerant of media: Rights group
December 03, 2003 10:47 IST
The Human Rights Watch has criticised the Pakistani government for becoming "increasing intolerant" of the media.
"It is time for [President] General Musharraf to show the world whether he is a reformer or no different from other military rulers. How he deals with press freedom is a big test. As of now he and his government are failing," the US-based group said.
Since Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999, the Watch said, the Pakistani government has "systematically" violated the fundamental rights of members of the press corps through "threats, harassment and arbitrary arrests".
"Many have been detained without charge, mistreated and tortured, and otherwise denied basic due process rights," it said.
The government, the group said, has sought to, and in several cases succeeded in, removing independent journalists from prominent publications.
"Meanwhile, the arrest of editors and reporters from local and regional newspapers on charges of sedition is becoming increasingly commonplace," it added.
In a letter to Musharraf, the Watch highlighted the case of Amir Mir, senior assistant editor of the monthly magazine Herald, whom, it said, the president reportedly threatened at a November 20 reception for editors.
Musharraf is reported to have condemned the Herald for being "anti-army" and working against the "national interest", and argued that the time had come for the Herald and Mir to be "dealt with", the Watch said.
Musharraf's comments, it added, reportedly included specific references to stories filed by Mir for the magazine. Two days later, unidentified persons set Mir's car ablaze outside his house. Mir later received a message purporting to be from the Intelligence-Services Agency claiming responsibility for the attack and warning that this was "just the beginning," the group alleged.
In this context, the Watch asked Musharraf to publicly disassociate himself from the comments about the Herald and order an investigation into the attack on Mir's car, said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
"Instead of creating an environment hostile to the press, it is the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to protect journalists," he added.
The Watch also raised the case of Rasheed Azam, a journalist and political activist from Khuzdar in Balochistan province, who was arrested on charges of sedition in August 2002 for publishing a photograph of Pakistan army personnel beating a crowd of Baloch youth.
It said it has learned that Azam was abused and tortured by members of the military. He remains in jail after a judge rejected his bail application.
The Watch said it had also written a letter to Musharraf about Azam on October 10 this year, but received no reply.
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