Maleeha asks government to end siege

ISLAMABAD: The editor of The News, Rawalpindi, on Friday urged the government to "see reason" and lift a nationwide "siege" of its offices.

"We are under siege," Maleeha Lodhi, editor of The News, told journalists representing foreign media at the group's building in Rawalpindi, as dozens of employees sat on the pavement outside in a hunger strike. "It is total defiance of a Supreme Court order for the release of newsprint," said Lodhi, a former ambassador to the United States. The 200 rolls were finally delivered.

"But here we have to make human shields in a bid to get newsprint inside," she said, adding that uniformed and plainclothes police were "besieging" the building to try to stop everything coming in, she said. Lodhi said the group went public last week as the government "left us with no option" and stepped up "intimidation" to force it into "toeing the government line" and sacking of the certain journalists.

Lodhi blamed the government for launching an "assault" on the largest newspaper group in a bid to tame the press after having brought other institutions "to heel". The motive was clear, she said adding: "If the largest newspaper group falls the others will fall in line."

Speaking on behalf of the owners, she said they had "put everything on line" and ruled out any "compromise on principles". "Even if they succeed in driving us out of business, it will not help democracy and the future of the country," she said, urging the government "to see reason, lift the siege and let the press function freely." To resolve the issue the government should withdraw all "mala fide" actions and let the law take its course if the group owed massive taxes as the authorities claimed, she said.

February 07, 1999
The News International Pakistan