Journalists, opposition walk out of Senate

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The combined opposition launched a vociferous protest against "fascist tactics of the government", its continued attack on the press freedom, harassment of journalists and confiscation of Jang Group's newsprint before staging walkout in the Senate twice on Monday. Later, the combined opposition as well as the protesting journalists unanimously passed a resolution, condemning the government for its attack on press freedom and demanding the implementation of the Supreme Court's orders on the availability of the newsprint to the Jang Group.

It was for the first time in recent history that the journalists locked the Press Lounge in protest against attacks on press freedom, came out in the lawns of the Parliament House and passed a condemnation resolution in presence of all the key leaders of the combined opposition. The opposition which had first staged a token walkout, came out of the House a second time in protest and immediately afterwards, lack of quorum led to the adjournment of the house. Earlier, the combined opposition blasted the government in the house when Interior Minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain said in response to the opposition's noisy protest that the Ehtesab Bureau had the authority to order raids (as it did to confiscate the Jang group's newsprint). He said the FIA and the Punjab police had conducted the raid to confiscate a truckload of newsprint under the Ehtesab Act.

And this prompted Aitzaz Ahsan to say: "We cannot sit in the House any more where the government is too insensitive to listen to the genuine grievances of the press," before he led the walkout and joined the protesting journalists in the lawns of the Parliament House. The journalists had already left the press gallery and walked out to register their protest.

"It is a contempt of the judiciary that just a few hours after the Supreme Court granted relief to the Jang group, the FIA and the police confiscated its newsprint. There cannot be any other instance to match how court orders are flouted," Senator Iqbal Haider said.

And Senator Ajmal Khattack, President Awami National Party (ANP) said "the combined opposition deplores in the strongest terms the inimical attitude of the government towards the Jang Group. I don't simply understand what do they want to achieve by ignoring even the court orders. Confiscating the newsprint of Jang group is the most condemnable act," the ANP leader said.

While Khattack spoke, all the key senators of the opposition stood with him and raised their hands to approve a resolution moved by Syed Faraz Hashmi, Secretary General RIUJ, on behalf of the journalists. It condemned "the unconstitutional and illegal tactics" of Senator Saifur Rehman and demanded of the government to implement the order of the Supreme Court by releasing the confiscated newsprint, as it was a clear contempt of the apex court's order and an attack on the press freedom," the resolution read.

Khattak said the government had targeted the Jang Group and was out to demolish the most important pillar of the state on the basis of personal dislike. He said the government wanted to prolong its rule and for this reason, it had been destroying all the institutions of the country.

The ANP president who addressed the journalists on behalf of the combined opposition said Parliament had raised many important points but the government was not ready to listen to anything. "Haven't they already made a mockery of the Constitution?" Khattak said the government alleged that the Chief Executive of the Jang Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was a tax defaulter but "the question is the Sharifs themselves are the the biggest defaulters."

He said the ANP would not only support the Jang Group in the Parliament but outside also. Aitzaz Ahsan said that it was Senator Saifur Rehman who was after the Jang Group and trying to gag the press. He said it was unfortunate that the Interior Minister of the country was helpless before the Ehtesab Bureau chief. Leaders of the MQM, BNP, BNM and others assured the protesting journalists that the combined opposition would continue to support the cause of press freedom. On a point of order ANP's Bashir Matta said the government was engaged in a harassment campaign against the journalists of Jang group. He said Editor of The News Rawalpindi/Islamabad Dr. Maleeha Lodhi had received threatening calls.

The News International Pakistan