Thousands demonstrate to support Jang Group, press freedom

By our correspondent

LAHORE: About 4,000 journalists, political and Human Rights activists and lawyers staged a march here on Wednesday to condemn the official treatment of Jang Group of Newspapers. The rally was held on the call of the Committee for a Free Press of the Lahore Press Club in support of Jang Group against intimidation by the government through its officials.

The unprecedented show of strength and solidarity by people from all walks of life has sent a clear message to the government that Pakistanis stood united against the government's campaign to muzzle independent newspapers.

The rally, which began from Lahore Press Club in the afternoon, went all the way up to the historic Masjid-e-Shuhada. Protesters carried banners and placards and shouted slogans in support of the press freedom.

Speakers, including representatives of the Pakistan People's Party and the Jamaat-i-Islami, vowed to defend the press freedom, saying they stood united with the press against the government onslaught in the guise of tax recoveries. Workers of all major newspapers marched in the rally and vowed they would not let the government succeed in its attempts to crush an independent press.

For many elderly journalists, it was an unprecedented show of strength. Such a massive response was witnessed some 27 years ago when journalists demonstrated in Lahore, demanding independence of Progressive Publishers Limited after it was taken over by the government, they said.

Heavily-armed policemen moved along with the procession and contingents were also deployed on the route. Several women activists -- mainly from several NGOs -- lawyers and political parties also took part in the demonstration.

The lawyers, expressing solidarity with the journalists, were prominent. Asma Jehangir, Chairperson of Pakistan Human Rights Commission, said that all Human Rights groups would join journalists in their fight for the press freedom. She maintained the government should not think of enslaving the fourth pillar of the state after weakening the other three. She especially criticised the government for violating the Supreme Court's orders, allowing the duty-paid quota of newsprint to the Jang Group. She said it was a wrong impression that the war was only against the Jang Group of Publications. The government had targeted the independence of the press in Pakistan, she added.

Kazim Khan, President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, announced his unconditional support to journalists in their fight of freedom of expression. He said the government had wrongly tried to pressurise the 'men of the pen' after gaining control over all other institutions. He said a free press was inevitable for the progress of a country or a nation. He paid rich tributes to the Jang Group and said many newspapers were controlled during the Gen Zia regime but the Jang Group chose democracy.

Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council Rana Ijaz said that Sharifs had closed all the 'doors of return' and it was why they had opted for their ouster through a war with the free press. He said great credit would go to dailies The News and Jang if they helped the people to get rid of the Sharifs.

From legal fraternity Hina Jillani, Mian Jehangir, Ramzan Chuadhry Rasheed Qureshi, Mian Jamil Akhtar, Raja Abdur Rehman, Shahid Mahmood Bhatti, lady lawyers including Salma Malik, Advocate Rabbia and Shaista Kaisar, and many others joined the procession to express solidarity with the journalists fighting for restoration of the freedom of the press and release of newsprint quota as per the Supreme Court orders.

The demonstrators stopped at Masjid-e-Shuhada for a while before returning to the press club where the recorded tape of the conversation between Jang Group's Chief Executive Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and Ehtesab Bureau chief Saifur Rahman was also played. The rally also adopted a unanimous resolution, demanding of the government to restore the Jang Group's newsprint quota.

The News International Pakistan