Leaders condemn raid at Jang Group offices

Say govt wants to tame press through illegal tactics

By our correspondents

RAWALPINDI: Leaders belonging to different political parties have strongly condemned the FIA raid at the offices of Jang Group of Newspapers and termed the incident as a blatant attack to stifle the freedom of expression.

To express solidarity with Jang Group of Newspapers against raid by FIA officials on Monday, Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto Tuesday paid a visit to the Group's offices in Rawalpindi. PPP leaders Ms Naheed Khan, Senator Safdar Ali Abbasi, Haji Nawaz Khokhar, Spokesman to opposition leader Farahatullah Babar, Nazir Dhoki and Wasif Arshad also accompanied Benazir.

On the occasion the opposition leader said that the FIA raid was a desperate bid by a fascist regime which was on the brink of collapse. She said Pakistan Peoples Party would approach other political parties against government, which was trying to control the press in the country. "We will take up this matter within the Parliament and outside the Parliament to apprise people about the policies of the government against the freedom of press in the country," she added.

She said Nawaz was destroying vital state institutions one after the other as first he destroyed the Presidency, and then followed by removing the Chief Justice, attacking the Supreme Court, dismissing Chief Election Commissioner, incapacitating the Parliament and forcing the Army chief to resign unceremoniously.

PPP leader said she had directed Senator Raza Rabbani to apprise human rights organisations about this high-handness of the government. She said the Jang Group should also approach the national and international journalists' associations on government policy policy of intimidating the press.

The Editors of Jang briefed her about the policy of victimisation of the government against the Jang Group of Newspaper. They told the PPP leader that the government had closed advertisement, cut newsprint quota, and had freezed accounts since long. "However, inspite of government tactics, the Jang Group of Newspaper always adopted balance policy towards news," they said.

Meanwhile, Chief of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) Imran Khan and secretary general Meraj Mohammad Khan, in a joint statement, condemned the raid and assured that the PTI would resist government's undemocratic move to gag the freedom of expression.

The reason behind conducting the raid and to harass and intimidate the newspaper workers was publication of the London Observor's report against the alleged corruption of Sharif family. Javed Jabbar, secretary general of the Millat Party, termed the raid as an attempt by the "ruling clique" to harass the journalists, saying, "All political parties and organisations of civil society must resist and defeat this blatant attempt to curb freedom of expression".

Unable to tolerate candid and courageous exposure of the ruling party leadership's incompetence and corruption, he said, the government was trying to apply pressure on the owners of Jang to become a compliant and obedient ally of the government.

The Jang Group of Newspapers is an important part of the independent press of Pakistan and serves the cause of representing the broad range of news and opinion in our country in contrast to the one sided propaganda of the government controlled electronic media, he said. The sudden interest being taken by the Income Tax Department and FIA in the newsprint and financial aspects of the Jang Group was too closely connected with the outspoken policy of the Jang Group for this sign of coercion to be a mere coincidence, he said. Chief of Awami Qyadat Party and former army chief Aslam Beg while condemning the raid, said: "Those believing in freedom of the press have been made victim of publishing a news report against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members". The FIA raid could not be approved by those who believe in democratic values, he opined.

He hoped the government would adopt legal and proper means to find details of income and taxes of the Jang Group. Central information secretary of PTI Agha Riazul Islam, divisional general secretary Tanvir Iqbal Pasha and divisional information officer Ulfat Kazmi, in a joint statement, said after taming different institutions, the Nawaz Sharif administration was bent upon controlling the independent press through illegal tactics.

They said the newspapers were being blackmailed though newsprint, income tax and government advertisements to stop them from exposing the misdeeds of the government. They recalled that the PTI fore-warned that the prime minister had started operation against the press and under the same policy, he was bringing out his own newspaper through a frontman which will be published from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad simultaneously.

They alleged the government was pushing the country towards anarchy and destruction through these tactics which must be checked in the larger national interest. Syed Zakir Hussain Shah, chairman Solidarity International, a global human rights organisation, said the raid was a sheer violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Constitution.

He elaborated that in Article 19 of the UDHR it has been laid down that "every one has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."

He said this desperate act of the government was also repugnant to the Islamic injunctions set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). "At one hand, the prime minister was declaring the enforcement of Islamic system in the country whereas on the other hand his wizards were violating the Islamic injunctions which guaranteed the expression of speech and opinion. Chaudhry Mushtaq Hussain, president PPP Rawalpindi, also condemned the raid.

The News International Pakistan