Sunday, January 11, 2009

Press in Gilgit Baltistan under the gun yet

Freedom of expression in conflict situations: Pakistan

A tradition of information control
By I. A. Rehman

Pakistan came into being in August 1947 in circumstances that made its founding fathers acutely conscious of its security needs. To an extent this was understandable as the State had no history of its own, it had been born in a climate of tension and hostility with a bigger neighbour (India), and with a quite a few questions marks on its ability to survive.
The high priority attached to matters of survival and security made the State’s managers extra-sensitive to dissent and criticism. They were easily persuaded to justify and retain the measures the erstwhile colonial authority had devised to control and manipulate the media and they were not wanting in efforts to make governance more secret than before.
The state of media at the time of independence, too, was not wholly conducive to the growth of a strong, independent and transparent media. There were only a few newspapers that catered to a small minority of readership in a country where literacy was around 12 percent. The newspapers were divided into a small English press and a larger press in indigenous languages. In one part of the country (East Bengal) Bengali language newspapers commanded much greater audience than newspapers in English. Similarly in West Pakistan newspapers in Urdu quickly acquired larger leadership than newspapers in English. The radio in public sector covered a small area and was strictly controlled by the government.

One of the most bizarre instances of suppression of newspapers in Pakistan involved the banning of Islamabad Times before the first issue of the daily was published. On August 31, 2004, a week before the Urdu daily was scheduled to be launched, officials in plain clothes entered the printing press in Rawalpindi where the paper was being put together and ordered stoppage of all work on the job. When Abdul Aziz, the printer, asked for a reason the officials left, only to return with a police party that arrested the printer, his son and two employees, closed the press and seized the equipment. The editor, Masood Malik, said he had completed all legal formalities for bringing out the daily. Taking note of the matter, Reporters Sans Frontiers suspected that the editor had invited administration’s wrath for having put General Musharraf an unwelcome question at his press conference in 2001 after the aborted summit with Indian Prime Minister Attal Bihari Vajpaee.
‘Kargil International’, a monthly published from Skardu, Northern Areas, was banned by the home department and all copies of the magazine confiscated on September 8, 2004. According to the Chief Editor, Engineer Manzoor Hussain Parwana, no notice was served on the paper nor was any ground for action against it communicated to him. About two months later, the magazine’s publisher and Managing Editor, Ghulam Shehzad Agha, was arrested and thrown in prison, apparently on the basis of the FIR registered by the Skardu Police Station House Officer on November 3, 2004, on orders from higher authorities. The FIR stated that “Ghulam Shehzad Agha, aided by Manzoor Husain Parwana, Editor, had published in the July-August 2000 issue of Kargil International material designed to instigate the public against Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf. Besides maligning the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, they have committed libel on him, and both of them are liable to action…… Therefore, as ordered by higher authorities, this case against the two persons / accused is instituted for throwing mud on President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, committing libel and instigating the people. Both persons / accused have committed offences under Sec. 501 and 505-B PPC.”
Till the time of writing Engineer Manzoor Husain Parwana, Chief Editor of the magazine, has not been arrested as he has stayed out of Northern Areas. On November 9, 2004 he issued a statement denying all charges against him. He said he had been fighting for the rights of the two million people of Gilgit Baltistan for 10 years, that he had been publishing stories of the bravery of the real heroes of the Kargil war (the soldiers belonging to the Northern Light Infantry) and the problems faced by their widows and families, and had demanded the formation of a commission to inquire into the Kargil conflict.


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