Senate body to probe Jang Group victimisation

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The parliamentary committee on information and broadcasting decided on Tuesday to conduct full-scale investigation into the raids and steps by the government to victimise the Jang Group -- Pakistan's largest newspaper publication house.

"We will investigate the matter till the time we catch the culprits behind this move to victimize the Jang Group," said Awami National Party leader Ajmal Khattak. The decision to conduct an independent investigation into government's move against the Jang Group was taken in the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting.

The committee meeting was chaired by Senator Raza Rabbani, and according to a formal announcement, the committee "took a serious note of the action taken against the Jang Group newspapers which, prima facie, appeared to be an act of victimization."

Information Minister Mushahid Hussain, who also distributed a paper with regard to the Jang Group articulating the government's position on the raid conducted by FIA, briefed the committee on the issue. "We are not satisfied with this one-sided cock and bull story," said Senator Iqbal Haider, "We have also decided to invite the Jang Group to the next meeting which will be held after Eidul Fitr."

Insiders say that Mushahid Hussain informed the members, who expressed their deep concern on the government's attempt to intimidate the independent press by resorting to extreme steps of raiding newspapers offices, that the information ministry had nothing to do with this issue. "The action was taken by income tax department, which acted independently," said Mushahid as quoted by a member of the committee.

However, several members openly expressed their dissatisfaction over the briefing, based on newspaper reports, by the information minister. He reportedly relied on Hameed Haroon's interview to BBC, which he frequently quoted in the meeting, according to a participant of the meeting. "You know and we know who is behind all this," said Khattak, "we will summon all those involved in this, and if we find it necessary to summon the prime minister to explain the position we will do so."

Iqbal Haider reportedly drew a comparison of the US action against Iraq with the government's action against the Jang Group. He also disputed the government's claim that it was not victimising the Jang-News Group, saying that the selective enforcement of law is what is called victimisation. He said this was akin to the selective implementation of UN resolutions against Iraq.

"There is no selective treatment of the press," Hussain told the meeting as quoted by one participant, "the government has done everything strictly under the law." It was our unanimous conclusion that action against the Jang Group was a perfect case of victimization, said Senator Iqbal Haider. "We will hold full investigations, as the government is trying to play down the victimization of Pakistan's largest group of newspapers."

He said Senator Saifur Rehman, other government leaders and officials will also be summoned by the committee to get to the bottom of the facts in this blatant case of victimisation of the Jang Group of Newspapers. Chairman PTV Senator Pervez Rashid also spoke on the occasion while he was described to be in a belligerent mood against the Jang Group, the majority of officials kept silent in the meeting.

"They say it was not a case of victimisation of the press, but on the basis of facts available to us this is a case of victimisation of the Jang Group of Publications," said Khattak, who pleaded for freedom of press to safeguard democracy. The meeting was attended by Senator Raza Rabbani (in the chair), Syed Mushahid Hussain, Ajmal Khattak, Zahid Khan, Pervez Rashid, Hussain Shah Rashdi and several other government officials including Additional Secretary Salim Gul, PIO Ashfaq Gondal and DG PTV Yousaf Baig Mirza.

The News International Pakistan