By Malik Siraj Akbar
The Frontier Corps (FC) personnel continued the siege of the offices of Daily Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi on the third consecutive day on Friday. The siege included body search and intense questioning of the newspapers’ staff members on their arrival at and departure from the office. They had blocked the main entrance of the small colony in which offices of the newspapers are located and stopped all the vehicles and persons visiting the newspaper offices.
The siege of two vocal newspapers in the conflict-torn province of Balochistan comes days after the forceful closure of an Urdu language newspaper, Daily Asaap. The offices of Daily Asaap were besieged by the Frontier Corps (FC), a federal paramilitary force notorious for harassing the people of Balochistan, for two weeks until the newspaper management surrendered and decided to shut the newspaper forever. The Asaap management said had it not decided to close down, the FC would physically harm its journalists and implicate them in false ‘sedition’ cases.
In its last edition, the newspaper charged the state intelligence agencies with attempting to kill the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Jan Mohammad Dashti, a leading Baloch scholar, in February this year in order to coax the newspapers to give up publication.
Except for the BBC Urdu Service, all major media outlets in Pakistan and organizations working for the rights of journalists and freedom of expression deliberately kept quite on the forceful closure of Daily Asaap by the FC. The unwillingness of these important media organizations to report and condemn the closure of the newspapers in Balochistan implicitly indicates the state of controlled media in Pakistan even under a so-called democratic government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
One does not have to be an Isaac Newton to understand why the PPP government is reacting so madly towards the Press in Balochistan. Because the PPP has not been able to reverse the repressive polices of General Pervez Musharraf in Balochistan. The oil-rich province still continues to face a deadly military operation in Mand, Dera Bugti and Kohlu areas. The provincial government has been overwhelmingly overpowered by the Frontier Corps that makes decisions. Political dissent is being crushed while opponents are being randomly picked up and put inside jails.
PAKISTAN FEDERAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS (PFUJ)
It is encouraging to see a statement of condemnation of the siege by Mr. Shamsul Islam Naz, the secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). Given below is the PFUJ statement:
“ISLAMABAD, Aug 23:- The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed its dismay and grave concern over terrorizing and harassing the editorial and other staff members of a Quetta-based English Daily “Baluchistan Express”, and an Urdu Daily Azadi, and termed it a direct attack on freedoom of expression and press.
In a statement issued here on Saturday, the PFUJ said that reports reaching in the PFUJ Secretariat revealed that a heavy armed contingent of the law enforcement agencies had cordoned the premises of the English Daily – “Baluchistan Express”, and an Urdu Daily Azadi, newspapers for more than 50 hours and terrorized the staff members of the newspapers and visitors under the garb of locating “some wanted persons”.The law enforce ring agencies also conducted a body search of each and every staff of both the newspapers and other visitors to the office. Not only this, the law enforcing agencies also reportedly compelled the visitors and staff to sit on the road for hours together before they were allowed entry into the newspaper office. They were also publicly disgraced and humiliated.
Such a high handedness by the law enforcing agencies with the media persons with the support of guns and uniforms caused mental torture to media persons on the one hand and on the other hand “sent a signal ” to the entire press of the province that if any of the excesses of the law enforcing agencies was made public they will have to face same degree of humiliation.”
The PFUJ said that the journalist community would not allow such uncalled for and abuse of law and shameless treatment with the media persons and would raise a strong voice it before all the forums both within and across the globe.
The PFUJ said it is not only a serious condemnable case of human rights violations but was tantamount to usurping fundamental and basic rights of the citizens which made it obligatory that the “state shall be responsible to protect grace, honour and dignity of the citizens and allow every one to freely join any profession of his choice”.
The PFUJ further pointed out that being signatory of the Human Rights and Freedom of the Press Declarations, the Government is under obligation to facilitate the media persons to ensure a conducive environment for carrying out their professional assignments.
According to the PFUJ, the unlawful act of the law enforcing agencies was tantamount to interfering in the privacy of the citizens. Regretfully, none from the provincial government nor the federal government took notice of such a serious and uncalled for incident which prima fascia indicated that the “they are also involved in this crime”.
The statement reminded that by and large population of the Baluchistan province, already having serious reservations of deprivation, and its political situation calls for a prudent approach by the law enforcement agencies as well as the government. In this backdrop, the maltreatment of the media persons and disgracing them publicly would further aggravate the sense of deprivation.
The PFUJ urged upon the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take a suo motu notice of this serious incident of high handedness of the law enforcing agencies and their involvement of violating the fundamental rights of the citizens and attempt to squaring the freedom of press in violation of the conditions and universal declarations. The PFUJ also called upon the human rights activities, and organizations to attack notice of such blatant violation of human rights and attack on the freedom of press.”
KARACHI UNION OF JOURNALISTS
The journalists’ community in Karachi has also expressed its full solidarity to the management of Daily Balochistan Express and Azadi at this critical juncture when the armed forces are out to muzzle the press. The Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) issued the following statement the other day.
“KARACHI: Karachi Union of Journalists has strongly condemned the harassment of the editorial and other staff of Baluchistan Express and Daily Azadi, Quetta-based esteemed English and Urdu dailies. According to details, the law enforcement agencies have cordoned off the office of the newspapers for past two days and body searching the staff and the other visitors to the office. The staff and the visitor are forced to sit on the road for hours before they are allowed entry into the office. This is serious inflicting serious damage to the working of the newspaper besides, causing mental and physical torture to the staff of the newspapers.
General Secreatry of KUJ Amin Yousuf strongly protest such unwarranted exercise of the law enforcement agencies, which are serious breach of constitutional rights of individuals and which guarantees the dignity of man and does not allow the privacy that should remain inviolable. He said, if the law enforcement agencies might be looking for some unfounded evidences, the way they are doing again in violation of the Constitution which provides that no person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidences. Our Constitution also guarantees every citizen the right to move freely throughout the country.
The province of Baluchistan has long been passing through acute deprivation and its political situation calls for prudent approach by the law enforcement agencies as well as the government. Instead, this unjust is being inflicted on them, which amounts to further the sense of deprivation already exists there.
KUJ demand the government of Baluchistan as well the federal to take immediate action and end this uncalled for besiege of the newspaper office to ensure the freedom of expression under the Article 19 of the Constitution.”
For the past three days, the FC personnel did not even explain for once what they wanted out of this siege and why they were laying the siege at the offices of Daily Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi rather than doing the same thing with the drug and weapons smugglers. The staff members strongly protested over the border searches and search of their passing vehicle into the office area and termed it illegal and immoral.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the members of the Action Committee of the Newspaper Industry with Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani was cancelled as it was scheduled to discuss the crisis created by the FC troops besieging the newspapers’ office and harassing the journalists and other visitors.
Ironically, all the staff members who make several visits to their office in hours are subjected to body search every time they come or leave the offices. The journalists’ community rightly considers this as a serious attack on the Press freedom. In the meantime, top political leaders of the country had expressed complete solidarity with the Azadi and Balochistan Express asking the Government to lift the siege immediately allowing the free Press to function without any intimidation.
Nawabzada Jamil Akbar Bugti, the eldest son of Nawab Akbar Bugti, has condemned the siege of newspaper office in strong terms and demanded its immediate withdrawal. He advised the government not to intimidate the free Press and the avoid curbing the Press freedom.
Both Daily Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi are member of the All Pakistan Newspapers’ Society (APNS) and Mr. Siddiq Baluch, the editor-in-chief of Balochistan Express, is holding the post of Vice-President of the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) which self-evidently indicates the high responsibility of the newspaper and its editor conducting the professional affairs in disseminating information. Thus, there is no question that the newspapers or the staff members are involved in any unlawful activities or undermining the interest of Pakistan and its people in any way. The main purpose of these two newspapers is dissemination of information in the service of the people of Pakistan and in a very responsible manner. The papers had never been charged on professional misconduct by anyone during the past half a century in this profession. Thus, the editor and the staff members are given high respect by all the segments of the society, including members and officers of the security forces for their upright conduct and fair behaviour in conducting professional duties. The newspapers, their editors and staff members had nothing to do with any dubious character nor are they involved in objectionable activities to this date. The Chief Minister, as chief executive of the Province, should immediately order the Inspector General of Frontier Corps (IGFC) to lift the siege immediately and stop insulting the staff members for their no crime.
The management of the newspapers has assured all concerned of complete cooperation in addressing their complaints, if they had any legitimate ones.
“We hope that the security forces will use their own professional people in the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) for resolving all the issues as they are in better communication with our office for the past many decades. The FC troops should not act on mere hearsay and start insulting the journalists and newspaper staff members. The Press Information Department (PID) of the federal government or the Directorate of the Public Relations (DPR) can also offer serious help to the FC personnel in removing their grievances, if they had against the newspapers,” said Asif Baloch, the editor of Daily Azadi.
We also appeal to the president and the prime minister of Pakistan to keep all the federal government departments and institutions under the discipline of the Balochistan Assembly and its leader of the House who is also the Chief Executive of the province, for restraining them to create serious problems for the political government. The siege is a non issue. It is never explained why the FC personnel had laid the siege. Presumably, they had not taken the CM into confidence before taking action.
We would once again like to request the rulers of this country to become aware of the conspiracies of the Establishment against a democratic government. Some vested interests are trying to pit the government against the media. They want to create an atmosphere of mistrust between both the sides. Neither Zardari nor Raisani were born yesterday. They should rightly analyze the wrong actions of the Frontier Corps.
It is sincerely hoped that all journalists’ bodies across Pakistan will come to the support of the two besieged newspapers. Likewise, it is expected of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amnesty International (AI), the Asian Human Rights Commission and all responsible human rights organizations and individuals to express solidarity with the management of the two newspapers committed to objective and impartial reporting.