Senators walkout to protest raid at Jang offices

Govt will be ultimate loser in war with media: Aali

By our correspondents

ISLAMABAD: The Combined Opposition unleashed a vitriolic attack against the government on Tuesday for the FIA raids on the Jang-News offices, charged it with taming the press and walked out in sympathy with journalists who had left the gallery in protest.

The Senate chose to set aside the routine agenda on the opening day and discussed only one item: the FIA raid on the Jang-News offices on Monday. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had also moved an adjournment motion and a calling attention notice on the issue, which remained the sole point of debate all through the sitting.

Chairman Pakistan Television Senator Pervaiz Rashid was the only treasury member who spoke on behalf of the government. The opposition regretted that the Prime Minister had become 'so obsessed with power' that he did not show due respect to the mass circulation newspapers.

The opposition Senators who returned to the House after walkout only to denounce the government through an adjournment motion said that the FIA raid was the continuation of the six-month old enmity of the rulers with the Jang Group of Newspapers. The Senators said on the floor of the House that the government had given the owners of the Jang Group a list of 14 journalists including Editor "The News" Dr. Maleeha Lodhi whom it wanted removed from the Jang Group.

Senator Shafqat Mahmood listed actions against the press during the previous and the present Nawaz tenure and recalled that Sharif government had also registered a treason case against Dr. Maleeha Lodhi. Jameeluddin Aali said that the Jang group was subjected to victimisation since last six month. The media has to do accountability of the rulers and it is the responsibility of the rulers to correct themselves in the line of guidance from the media.

This group, he added, had faced victimisation during last many governments but the courts had always upheld their stand. He demanded that the government should give the group time to respond to the charges levelled by the government in connection with tax evasion. Aali warned the government will be ultimate loser in this battle with the media.

Surprisingly, the adjournment motion on which 15 Senators expressed their views saw no minister giving a wind-up speech in line with the parliamentary practice. Pakistan People's Party PPP's Raza Rabbani was quick to point it out as he deplored that nobody from the government side had given a concluding speech.

While the debate progressed, the treasury members began to slip from the Senate one by one and at 9 pm, only seven government senators were sitting in the House, including Ministers Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and Khalid Anwar. Shafqat Mahmood raised the issue in the Upper House soon after the Question Hour and said the government was consistently and callously indulging in a campaign to gag the press, which pointed out its wrong policies. He said the rulers did not want to see a word of criticism in newspapers, which opposed the Raiwind brand of rule in the country.

He said that the members of Muslim Students Federation during 1989 had attacked a news paper office in Lahore while in 1992 under the same government, the office of The Friday Times was raided by police and the CIA. And now this government is pressuring Jang group to sack its 16 journalists.

Senator Ajmal Khattak of the Awami National Party (ANP) said it was not an issue of a single newspaper but of all the newspapers. He said the government had a track record of destroying the institutions of the country and the FIA raid on the Jang-News was a step in this direction. "Any one who opposes the one-man rule in this country has to face the consequences," Senator Ajmal Khattak said.

Condemning the government-sponsored raid at the regional offices of Jang Group, Senator Ajmal Khattak said that this action was not against a single newspaper rather Nawaz Sharif-led government is bent upon destroying all prestigious institutions in the country.

This government through its deeds is establishing that they are not sincere to this country with having an agenda to weaken Pakistan's boundaries. "Such tactics of the government if allowed will ultimately bring the country on the verge of destruction," Ajmal Khattak said and added: "This nation will not allow any one to become dictator of this country by becoming Ameer-ul-Momineen of Raiwind state."

Senator Aftab Shaikh, parliamentary leader of MQM, said that the government was deliberately taking action against the media. This action was not against a single newspaper but against a group with publications of largest circulations in the country. Similar action, he added, were taken in 1991 with an aim to destabilise prestigious institution of print media.

Bashir Matta of ANP said that this action establishes that the government wanted to consolidate 'Raiwind State'. He said that the press reelects intellectual calibre of the state and if the rulers had failed to understand it after 50 years, then the government has no right to rule. Akram Shah of PKMAP demanded impartial inquiry into the incident to ensure proper action against the real culprits.

Maulana Fazal, parliamentary leader of JUI, told the House that all those who had earlier attacked the freedom of press had to face the consequences. Khudae Noor of Jamhoori Watan Party held Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responsible for the action. He said that the FIA had raided at the behest of the Prime Minister with a sole purpose of destabilising the country.

Jahangir Badar said that the action reflected dictatorial mindset of Nawaz Sharif who was following the policies of his idol -- dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Senator Habib Jalib said that this action was designed to harass the media. He said that the press was an independent pillar of the state and its sanctity and freedom must be respected. Fizza Junejo said that this was an unfortunate incident and this would be clear only after the arrival of concerned minister who is currently in UAE.


February 07, 1999
The News International Pakistan