RSF writes to Pakistan about Journalist Persecution

Pakistan’s election season is turning out to be one in which not only politicians but even journalists face harassment and are unable to cover campaigns freely and openly.

Just this week, the international media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontiers or Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its Pakistan-based partner, Freedom Network (FN), appealed to the caretaker government: “What with threats, abductions, beatings, illegal suspensions and disrupted distribution, media and journalists are being harassed by the military and intelligence services, as well by political actors, in a clear attempt to intimidate them and prevent independent reporting ahead of the elections.”

The letter referred to the intimidation, threats and attacks on journalists including the break in at Marvi Sirmed’s residence and the abduction and subsequent release of Gul Bukhari

According to Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk: “We have been seeing an alarming increase in violations of press freedom and the circulation of news and information in recent months. This interference is absolutely unacceptable in a country that claims to be democratic. We call on Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities to let journalists work freely and inform the public without threats or reprisals. The respect of Pakistan’s leaders for their fellow citizens and the country’s international credibility are both at issue.”

 

Freedom Network executive director Iqbal Khattak added: “The Pakistani people must be fully able to exercise their constitutional right to elect a new government on 25 July. Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk and Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar have publicly stated that they will ensure free and fair elections, for which a free and independent press is essential. The election results will have no credibility if journalists are not allowed to cover the election without hindrance, pressure or manipulation of any kind.”

 

Pakistan’s Cardinal & Religious Freedom in Pakistan

Pakistan, a country created to protect the British Raj’s Muslim minority, has over the decades become a country where no minority – Muslim or non-Muslim – is safe. After almost two decades a Pakistani has been chosen as a cardinal by The Holy See and not only is there hardly any discussion of this, but the beleaguered Pakistani Christian minority continues to face consistent harassment and pressure.

 

Pakistan’s first cardinal in 24 hours, Karachi Cardinal-designate Joseph Coutts, warned of “gradual erosion” of religious freedom in Pakistan because the government has been unable to control the vigilantism of religious extremists. Pakistan’s last cardinal was Joseph Cordeiro died in 1994.

 

Speaking about Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, at the conclusion of a symposium “Defending International Religious Freedom: Partnership and Action” in Rome, the Cardinal said “It’s causing a lot of problems right now. People are being killed … just because of an accusation. Our government is not strong enough to control the kind of extremism that has developed in the country. It is enough to accuse someone of blasphemy … and you’re finished.”

 

The Cardinal stated that in Pakistan it is not only Christians who face unfair accusations of breaking the country’s blasphemy law, but also Ahmadi and Shia Muslims. “We are suffering as Christians, but our Muslim brethren are also suffering.”

 

According to a story in The National Catholic Reporter, “Coutts said the violence is carried out by those with “extremist thinking largely based on emotions.” He shared one example of a threat he received after he was invited by Muslim friends to visit their madrassa around Christmastime one year. He said that some days later he and some of the Muslims received hand-written notes, warning them: “Stop all this rubbish or we’ll pull out your tongues.” “What can you do with people like this?” he asked. “This is the reality. I think we’ve got to look for the answers but I don’t know the answers.”

‘Insecure Stare: Pakistani Intelligence Harasses Activists and Their Families’

Openly threatening activists families, kidnapping prominent journalists, raiding houses of human rights activists and journalists has now become open practice in Pakistan. It looks like the security establishment has declared open war against anyone it perceives as a threat to its narrative and its image.

In January 2017 several bloggers including Prof Salman Haider and Ahmad Waqass Goraya were picked up and tortured by the security agencies. In our article Arrest Militants not Scholars we had said “If terrorism is going to be defeated in reality and not just in slogans, state agencies will have to carry out operations against extremist militants, not scholars.”

Mr Goraya was forced to leave Pakistan and seek asylum in Europe. On June 20, Mr Goraya tweeted that his family that is being targeted and “his elderly parents were threatened directly with abduction and torture to ‘teach me a lesson’.” In a statement issued today the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned what it saw as “this latest attempt to cow human rights defenders into silence. To use a person’s vulnerable elderly parents as leverage is nothing short of cowardly. That Mr Goraya has reportedly been warned to refrain from tweeting or writing, in his words “at least till the elections”, is an ominous sign at such a critical point in Pakistan’s democratic development.’”

Pakistan’s brave journalists continue to be targeted as well.

As mentioned in our story Pakistan army declares war on dissenters, in early June of this year, just one day after DGISPR Asif Ghafoor’s press conference in which he showed a list of prominent journalists who the security establishment viewed as threats, well-known journalist and activist and vocal critic of the military establishment Gul Bukhari was abducted by unknown persons in Lahore while on her way to the studios of Waqt TV. According to a report in Dawn: Bukhari “was abducted on Sherpao Bridge in Lahore’s Cantonment area. Her family had reported her missing to the police. Punjab Police said Bukhari had not been detained by its personnel.” Bukhari was freed in the wee hours of the following morning after outrage and concern expressed on social media by media watchdogs as well as the British High Commission in Pakistan.

On Thursday June 21, the residence of prominent journalist, analyst and Daily Times’ correspondent Marvi Sirmed “was ransacked as the family entered home after being away for holidays. Two laptops, one smartphone, passports of family members among other travel documents were taken.” In a Daily Times report: “Marvi sirmed said that from the look of it she could tell that the miscreants went through all of the family’s belongings but no valuables such as the jewelry was taken. She said her wedding ring was also gone and she couldn’t find two of her bangles and assumes were also taken. She said the miscreants detached the new passports and took the valid ones while leaving those expired behind. Marvi said the police have written a complaint but an FIR hasn’t been lodged yet. She added that she doesn’t know much about the incident except that it was similar to an incident that happened in 2010 while they lived in another house in F11. “I don’t know who would want to rob my house as I don’t even have precious jewellery or such valuables here.”

In its statement the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “also expressed its alarm ‘at the growing frequency with which human rights defenders are being targeted. HRCP calls for a public and transparent investigation of the incident to make it clear that such callous attempts to intimidate human rights defenders or their families are unacceptable and unconstitutional. This ugly state of affairs simply cannot be allowed to continue.’”

Hard Facts on CPEC, not Propaganda Videos

When governments are concerned about reality or hard facts they resort to gimmicks. Most pragmatic people today agree that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not the panacea it was promised to be and that Pakistan may end up becoming so deep in China’s debt that it will face long term consequences very few people have thought through. This is why for the last year the government appears to be encouraging gimmicks on youtube and social media.
 
Last April 2017 many of us viewed an advertisement by Shan Foods for their premade biryani masala mix in which a young Chinese woman, residing in Lahore with her husband who works for a Chinese company that is part of CPEC, uses the masala to prepare biryani and thus build a bond with her Pakistani neighbors. The advertisement went viral serving the government’s purpose of focusing on the ‘feel good’ rather than the reality.
 
The reality about CPEC was revealed in Dawn the following month, May 2017. As per Dawn’s report “The plan lays out in detail what Chinese intentions and priorities are in Pakistan for the next decade and a half, details that have not been discussed in public thus far. The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises.”
 
Now we hear of news reports that Chinese and Pakistani filmmakers will cooperate in scriptwriting, shooting, post-production, and screening of “a movie showcasing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to highlight the “intimate friendship” of the people from the two countries. The movie named “The Journey” will tell stories of Chinese businesses participating in the construction of the corridor.”  
 
Xinhua quoted Wang Haiping, director of the scriptwriting committee of the China Television Artists Association at the first SCO festival as saying “The intimate friendship of the people from the two countries will be highlighted in the movie.” The shooting for the film is likely to start in early 2019.

Will UK Courts Stop Pakistan Media’s ‘Traitor’ Propaganda Against Dissidents?

For years Pakistan’s establishment and its favoured media have run campaigns of intimidation against dissidents by describing them as ‘traitors’ or circulating other unsavory allegations against them. Pakistan’s spineless judiciary has never implemented the country’s libel and defamation laws effectively. In case of allegations backed by the establishment/army/ISI, the Pakistani Supreme Court has inverted the principle that accusers must prove their accusation to ‘the accused must prove their innocence.’

All that has been an insurmountable hurdle but the success of Jang/Geo Group’s Mir Shakil ur Rehman in forcing the shutting down of ARY News in the UK has opened a path for Pakistani dissidents to at least fight back.

ARY called Mir Shakil an Indian agents on its shows and the poor man could do nothing about it in Pakistan. He then realized that ARY also runs in UK and decided to approach the British Office of Communications –an arbiter of fairness in media – and also to demand reparations through British courts. He won.

ARY News decided to declare bankruptcy in U.K. and shut its operations there. Its programs are now shown in UK under the banner of ‘New Vision Limited.’ As The Guardian noted, the case put Pakistan’s media on notice.

 

 

 

Another web based news source, Eurasia Future, pulled down an article against Mir Shakil written by a Pakistani after being threatened with defamation action. It also had to run an apology.

 

 

 

 

Now it seems that former ambassador and author Husain Haqqani has decided to take the same road.

Called all sorts of names on Pakistani TV channels, Haqqani can do little in Pakistan to stop his defamation because the law in Pakistan is subject to the whims of the ‘patriotic’ establishment. But Haqqani could, like Mir Shakil, demand of all media outlets that also operate in UK (or elsewhere) to prove their allegations.

We know how difficult it is to prove allegations when the judges are not already in one’s pocket. That is why Haqqani has never been put on trial in Pakistan for any crime and even First Information Reports (FIRs) against him have only been registered within the last few months, seven years after his resignation as ambassador.

His threat already resulted in Global Village Space pulling down an article by well-known Haqqaniphobe, Capt (retd.) Syed Haider Raza Mehdi within hours of putting it up.

The strategy of suing over defamatory material under the laws of other countries will not stop habitual slanderers and abusers in Pakistan. But it will incur a cost for those in Pakistani media who want to be read or watched outside Pakistan too. It could also result in financial loss like the one incurred by ARY.

Pakistani media owners are in the business for making money. They are unlikely to want to lose the UK market. Unless, of course, the establishment that provokes them to abuse dissidents is willing to spend more money to subsidize its abuse.