Massive press freedom march in Karachi

Benazir demands removal of Saifur Rahman; says govt must end victimisation of Jang Group; Ghafoor; Sattar; Siddiq Rathore; Qari Sher Afzal, Hasan Turabi, Ghafoor Nadeem, Asad Thanvi, others also address protesters

By our correspondent

KARACHI: Paying tributes to the Jang Group for taking a firm stand to protect the freedom of the press, the Leader of the Opposition and Chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party Benazir Bhutto on Monday announced that all political forces would stand united for struggle to protect the rights of the national press.

After leading a mammoth Press Freedom March, organised by the All Parties Press Freedom Committee to express solidarity with the Jang Group, Benazir Bhutto was addressing the huge crowd of political, social, religious trade union and newspaper workers near the Sindh Assembly Building -- the culmination point of the mammoth march which originated in front of the Jang Group office at the I I Chundrigar Road. Before arrival of Benazir Bhutto, representatives of various parties addressed the protesting crowd in front of the Jang Offices while many of them also delivered their speeches on the way to the Assembly building.

Along with Leader of Opposition Benazir Bhutto, the Press Freedom March was also led by Professor Ghafoor of Jamaat-e-Islami, Dr Farooq Sattar of MQM, Siddiq Rathore of JUP, Qari Sher Afzal of JUI, Najeeb Haroon of Tehreek-e-Insaf, Hasan Turabi of TJP, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem of Sipah-e-Sahaba, Maulana Asad Thanvi of JUI (S) and others. The march was attended by hundreds of thousands of political, social, religious, trade union and newspaper workers holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans for the freedom of press, end to intimidation of the national press, release of newsprint, unfreezing of accounts and an end to the victimization of the Jang Group.

Concluding the march, Benazir Bhutto said the tussle between the government and the press was not only the issue of a particular group. "It is a matter of the freedom of the press and the integrity of the country," she remarked. "Today, leaders and workers of PPP, MQM Jamaat-e-Islami and other parties are jointly voicing for freedom press which shows that they would shun their differences and get united for a joint struggle to go a long way if needed," Benazir pledged. She said after seeing the today's show, hopefully the government would stop intimidating the Jang Group, unfreeze its accounts, release its newsprint and give up the idea to curb the press.

She said the rulers were saying that the issue was not of freedom of press rather it was an issue of tax evasion by the Jang Group. She said this was heard by the nation time and again. Whenever the rulers intend to grab any institution or to extort money from it, they start such a propaganda against the particular institution, Benazir said adding that the present rulers did the same with Hubco just for financial gain as in the wake of government propaganda the shares of Hubco went down in the stock market and the rulers took benefit of it. She said in the past, the government targeted cement, sugar, fertilisers and textile industry in an attempt to grab all these industries. She said that the present rulers did not even spare the judiciary and the armed forces.

She said the present rulers were defaming the country at international level by maligning the press, judiciary, politicians and generals. Referring to a note sent by the workers of PPP Ward 6, Benazir Bhutto said the government should stop victimizing the Jang Group, remove Saifur Rehman from the Ehtesab Bureau and register a case against him.

She said on the issue of income tax, Saifur Rehman had written that he was not a resident of Pakistan and that was why he had not paid any tax. "If Saif is not a resident of Pakistan, then how he became a senator," she asked. Benazir said Nawaz Sharif was using the army for getting Wapda dues, to prosecute MQM activists in military courts but not for getting the bank money back from defaulters. She said if Nawaz Sharif used the army for the purpose, the opposition would welcome the decision.

Speaking on the occasion, the MQM parliamentary Leader in Sindh Assembly Dr Farooq Farooq Sattar said this representative gathering was an ample proof that the days of the present rulers were numbered. On behalf of the MQM leader Altaf Hussain, he said that if the Jang group announced a march to Islamabad, thousands of MQM workers would join it to the federal capital. He said that the rulers had no courage to face the criticism and that was why they had frozen the accounts of the Jang Group. He asked Mir Shakil not to bow before the government because of the advertisements and continue the struggle till its logical end.

MNA Kanwar Kahlid Yunus of the MQM said the rulers must remember that Karachi was the protector of politics and free press. Whenever needed, the Karachiites struggled and sent the rulers home. He said Jang was the voice of the Karachiites and citizens of this city would not let it down. He said that the government was victimizing the Jang Group for publishing the voice of Karachi.

The city chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Naimatullah Khan said due to unwise policies of Nawaz Sharif, the country's integrity and geography were at stake. He said that the nation could not afford a prime minister who had become a security threat to the country. The JI leader said that by victimizing the Jang Group, the Nawaz government had, in fact, challenged the nation and accepting the rulers' challenge, the entire nation was at the back of the Jang Group.

Amin Khattak of the ANP said the government had finally attacked the fourth pillar of state by targeting the Jang group. He demanded an end to the victimization of the Jang group. Maulana Abdul Karim of the JUI said the ongoing struggle was not only of the journalist community but also of the oppressed classes of the country. Siddiq Rathore of the JUP said for the country's solidarity, a free press was essential and demanded an end to the government measures against the Jang Group.

Fatehyab Ali Khan of Mazdoor Kisan Party said the government should not curb the press and allow everybody to run an independent TV channel. Alhaj Shamimul Haq of PML (Functional) assured the Jang group of full support of his party. Maulana Asad Thanvi of the JUI said any government which tried to curb the press would meet the fate of the past rulers. He urged the Ulema to get united and struggle against the government.

Engineer Najeeb Haroon of Tehrik-e-Insaf said that the people of Karachi had once again proved that they would not tolerate the unjust acts of the government. Naheed Afzal of Tehrik-e-Istaqlal said that Mir Shakil and the workers of the Jang Group should be praised for their courageous character of standing against the government to protect the freedom of the press.

Maulana Hasan Turabi of the TJP said the followers of Fiqah-e-Jafferia would not back out from the struggle for a free press as it was the voice of the oppressed classes. Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan said that his party would stand by with the journalist community against the oppressor government and would struggle all the way down to send the rulers' home.

Khalid Mumtaz of the Millat Party said that the mammoth march was an ample proof of the courage of the people of Karachi who were ready for any sacrifice to protect the freedom of the press. Amanullah Khan of PML-Q said that the present rulers should feel ashamed of what they were trying to do with the Jang Group.

Hanif Blue of Tehrik Awam Ahle Sunnat said the country's religious circles, labourers and social workers were standing by with Jang Group in its struggle to protect the freedom of the press. At the end of the march, Muhammad Saeed of Supreme Council of Jang Group Employees Unions thanked the leaders and the workers of all political parties, social and religious organisations and trade unions for their cooperation in the Freedom of Press March.

Rally demands withdrawal of sedition cases

By our correspondent

KARACHI: The mammoth Press Freedom March, organised by the All Parties Press Freedom Committee to express solidarity with the Jang Group, on Monday demanded of the government to stop victimizing the Jang Group and bring an immediate end to the negative tactics against newspapers and withdraw the sedition cases against three newspapers.

The resolution was presented by Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, provincial chief of PPP and leader of the opposition in Sindh Assembly, and unanimously passed by the mammoth crowd at the end of the march near the Sindh Assembly.

The resolution said: "This representative gathering of all political parties, trade unions, social organisations, intellectuals pledges to always stand united and express solidarity for the cause of freedom of expression. "This gathering is demanding the rulers to withdraw the sedition cases against Daily Jang, Daily Amn and Daily Parcham and stop victimizing Daily Star, Daily Ausaf, Daily Muslim, Monthly Newsline and other newspapers and periodicals.

"This gathering reached to a consensus that government actions against the Jang Group and other newspapers were in fact against the freedom of press and national solidarity. That is why the entire nation and its representatives have decided to back the Jang Group. We condemn the freezing of bank accounts, seizing of newsprint and other negative tactics on part of government.

"We unanimously demand that dishonest person like Saifur Rehman, who is also a defaulter of banks, should be immediately removed from the Ehtesab Bureau, arrested and tried on sedition charges for violating the Constitution.

"Mushahid Hussain should also be removed as Information Minister and the ministry should be abolished. This historical march also demands that the Pakistan Television and Radio should be freed from government control and the electronic media should not be made as the rulers' mouthpiece and the unilateral propaganda against the elected representatives and the political parties should be stopped forthwith.

"This rally assures the journalist community of full support in this historical struggle for freedom of the press and demands of all newspaper proprietors, APNS and CPNE to make sure implementation of sixth wage board award in full and abolish the contract system in newspapers."

The News International Pakistan