APNS associates itself with Jang Group, PFUJ petitions in SC

Unanimous vote in favour of decision; expresses full support for press freedom, backing for Jang Group; Hameed Haroon releases correspondence between APNS, EB

KARACHI: A press release regarding the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) meeting held in Lahore this week was released by APNS Executive Director Dr Tanvir A Tahir on Saturday. The press release states:

The meeting of the APNS held in Lahore on February 4, 1999, has rejected the belief emanating from certain quarters that the APNS has done nothing to support either the freedom of press or the Jang Group in its present confrontation with the government.

In furtherance of this, the Executive Committee unanimously voted to associate itself with the petition filed by Jang and the PFUJ in the Supreme Court. The precise form of such association, whether as a co-petitioner or an intervener, would be left entirely to the president's discretion in the best interests of the publishers body. This is necessary as the issues raised by the Jang Group in the court are of public importance and have implications for the freedom of press and the freedom of expression.

While releasing the hitherto confidential correspondence between the APNS and the Ehtesab Bureau covering the period from late December 1998 to January 1999, the newly-elected president of APNS and convenor of the press-government sub-committee, Hameed Haroon, summarised the role that the APNS had played in aid of the Jang Group.

The APNS president recalled that the APNS had raised the Jang Group issue with the government in August 1998. In October, it had formed a one-man committee, comprising Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami, to take up the issue with the government.

In late December 1998, the APNS president reminded the members at the meeting of what Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had summarised his predicament at that time:

• Several FIRs had been registered against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and there was a likelihood of his arrest.

• Jang's newsprint inventory had dwindled to a 3-day level only and the possibility of suspending publication was real as a consequence of Customs' withholding of the groups' newsprint.

• All bank accounts had been frozen by the tax authorities and all LC facilities suspended. As a consequence of this, the Jang Group would not be able to pay salaries for the month of December to journalists and staff.

• The government was exercising pressure for the removal of 16 journalists from the Jang Group and had asked for Jang's support on various issues while asking it not to publish news about certain matters.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman also informed the committee that due to "rank victimisation" a plethora of tax and custom notices and demands had been served on him, amounting to almost Rs 2 billion. As a consequence the Executive Committee had formed a sub-committee on the Jang-government relations issue.

Upon opening the negotiations as the correspondence indicate, the APNS representatives stated to both the federal information minister and separately to the Ehtesab Bureau chief, that they would not be party to any attempt to remove journalists from their jobs as a result of government pressure. This was confirmed the same night in a BBC interview and subsequently in correspondence with the Ehtesab Bureau.

The APNS president declared: "The APNS has been instrumental in reducing the fetters from the Jang Group in the 21-day period in January. During this time, detained newsprint dealer -- Rehan Paper Mart -- was released from the custody of the FIA without any preconditions. During the crisis period, the APNS also effected the single largest clearance of newsprint reels.

"The APNS played a pivotal role in the opening of hitherto frozen bank accounts in the nationalised banks especially in Habib Bank Limited, and by the end of the 21-day period had facilitated the re-opening of Letters of Credit which had been earlier stopped by the tax authorities."

"Had the APNS not been able to provide this support, it is unlikely that the Jang Group would have been able to sustain even its present rate of publication. To set the record straight, the APNS is releasing the entire correspondence with the Ehtesab Bureau for information of the public."

During the meeting, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman recounted the severe trials that the Jang Group had been undergoing in the present crisis with the government. He stated that although some newsprint reels had been cleared and some of the bank accounts defreezed, both actions were deliberately delayed by the government. He also stated that the Ehtesab Bureau had promised, in presence of senior APNS executives, to facilitate the withdrawal of one tax notice which it had failed to do till to date. He also stated that the APNS sub-committee should be disbanded since they had failed to deliver on tax notices issued by the tax authorities on Jang. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman summarised the matter thus:

"All gains made by negotiations as far as newsprint acquisition, de-freezing of banks accounts and restoration of LC privileges by the APNS are meaningless as long as the tax notices are not withdrawn." Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman appealed to the members to exercise their joint and individual influences to dissuade the FIA from pursuing a campaign of relentless persecution of the Jang Group of Newspapers.

The APNS Executive Committee dissolved the sub-committee as requested by the Jang Group chief and considered the alternative suggestion made by him of becoming a co-petitioner in the Supreme Court. The APNS meeting was adjourned to resume in Islamabad at 3:00 pm on February 9 at the Hotel Holiday Inn, to coincide with the date of the next hearing in the Supreme Court, where the APNS members had expressed their desire to be present.

The meeting was attended by:

Hameed Haroon, President; Jamil Ather, Vice President; Mir Javed Rahman, Secretary General; Dr Jabbar Khattak, Joint Secretary; Syed Shahid Hashmi, Finance Secretary; Mumtaz A Tahir (Aftab), Qutubuddin (Asian Medical News), Siddiq Baloch (Balochistan Express), Arshad A Zuberi (Business Recorder), Abdul Rashid Ghazi (Business Report), Riaz A Mansoori (Cricketer), Kazi Asad Abid (Ibrat), Sharif Farooq (Jihad), Javed Mahar Shamsi (Kaleem), Muhammad Aslam Kazi (Kawish), Zia Shahid (Khabrain), Aamir Mahmood (Kiran), Hassan Poya (Muslim), Mushtaq A Qureshi (Naey Ufaq), Arif Nizami (Nawa-i-Waqt), S M Munir Jilani (Paigham), Ilyas Shakir (Qaumi Akhbar), Waqar Yousuf Azeemi (Roohani Digest), Mustafa Sadiq (Wifaq) and Mujeebur Rahman Shami (Zindagi). Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (Jang Group), Sarmad Ali (The News) & Mukhtar Aqil (Jurat Karachi) attended as special invitees.

The News International Pakistan