Mar 16, 2007

Inquiry after Pakistan police raid TV office

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani authorities ordered an inquiry on Friday after policemen smashed up the offices of a television and newspaper group during protests over the sacking of the country’s chief justice.

Television footage showed riot police in helmets entering the office of private Geo Television in Islamabad and breaking windows. The channel said police also “manhandled” its staff.

“We have ordered an inquiry into this very unfortunate incident,” Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told AFP. “The government believes in the freedom of the press.”

Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao however said activists from an Islamic group grabbed a policeman and took him into the Geo building.

“The police chased those miscreants in order to recover the police constable,” Sherpao told AFP. “It was not an attack on Geo, it was not an attack on the media.”

The incident came a day after Geo said Pakistani regulators had ordered it to stop airing its flagship daily news programme “Today with Kamran Khan” until further orders.

“The police damaged our infrastructure. This attack on the freedom of the press is unprecedented in the 60-year history of this country,” Khan, who presents the programme, said after the police incident on Friday.

The offices of The News, an English language-daily, and the Urdu-language Jang, which are both part of the same media group as Geo, were also damaged, sources at the group said.

Another channel and an international watchdog accused the government of fresh attempts to censor their coverage of the row over Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was sacked by President Pervez Musharraf on March 16.

“We have been told not to make Chaudhry a hero and to avoid undue coverage of lawyers’ protests,” said Talat Hussain, head of the news section of Aaj television, another private station.

“We are working under tremendous pressure. We are being threatened with being taken off air or even with the cancellation of our licence if we give undue coverage to the chief justice trial,” Hussain said.

Irfan Ahmed, a cable operator in the southern port city of Karachi, said he had been told to “cut off news channels which violate the instructions.”

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders this week slammed Pakistan for allegedly suspending broadcasts by Geo and Aaj after they screened footage on Monday of clashes between police and lawyers.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced the government’s moves.

“We call on President Musharraf to live up to his stated commitment to freedom of the press and stop what appears to be retaliation against Geo TV for critical coverage,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator.

1 comment: