Newsmen pledge to uphold press freedom

Jang Group deal with govt denied; expulsion of 40 Assas workers resented

By Raja Zulfikar

ISLAMABAD: Leaders of major political parties of the country joined the protesting journalists on Monday in their demand for complete press freedom and marched up to the Parliament House calling upon the government to give up its hold on the press.

Addressing the rally near the Parliament building, leaders of political parties as well journalists' organisations vowed to continue their battle for press freedom and asked for an end to victimisation against the press, the Jang Group in particular.

Leaders of APNEC and RIUJ under Minhaj Berna, PFUJ president Abdul Hameed Chhapra, and others had organised the press freedom march to condemn the government for its 'dictatorial policies to silence the press'. Leaders of journalists' bodies CR Shamsi, Pervaiz Shaukat, Fouzia Shahid, Faraz Hashmi and others also addressed.

Chhapra said the government had tried to crush the press but pledged to lead a movement against it, saying the journalists would do all they could to liberate press from the clutches of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Senator Saifur Rahman. "The working journalists have won the first battle and would win other such battles also". He said the political leaders had joined the press in its struggle today. CR Shamsi, Pervaiz Shaukat and Faraz Hashmi condemned the government for attacks on the press and expulsion of 40 employees of daily Assas. They also called for an end to the contractual appointments.

There were, in fact, two separate rallies in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as the political leaders first converged at the Murree Road and marched against 'the government's moves to muzzle the press.' Later, they travelled to Islamabad to join journalists at Aabpara Chowk and then walked up to the Parliament House.

Those who attend the press freedom rally were Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, former NA Speaker and head of PML(J) Hamid Nasir Chattha, key MQM Senators under Aftab Sheikh, leader of the opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan, other PPP Senators, former PPP minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Benazir Bhutto's political secretary Naheed Khan. Also present were Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), Aftab Lodhi of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), Amirul Azim of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Senator Dr Hayee Baloch of Balochistan National Movement (BNM) and Syed Kabir Ali Wasti of Pakistan Muslim League (Qasim), besides several others.

Workers of the political parties also marched with journalists up to the Parliament House. Former ambassador to the United States and editor 'The News' Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, editor Jang daily Rana Tahir, ex-editors of the Jang and scores of journalists attended the rally, which also included activists of several human rights groups, non-governmental organisations, representatives of lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, labour unions and others.

Shaheen Qureshi, Editor Coordination Jang Group categorically denied the group had entered into any deals with the government and said the latter had agreed to certain concessions to diffuse the pressure and buy time. "Let me make it clear that there is no compromise whatsoever as the government has claimed since Saturday," he said. Shaheen noted that the attack on press freedom was in fact an issue of the survival of Pakistan and democracy because both were closely related.

He said the government had destroyed all institutions and had now directed its guns at the press. He said the real person behind attacks on press freedom was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and not 'his stooge Saifur Rzhman'. He said the Jang Group had moved the courts for justice and it would win the legal battle for freedom of the press. "We don't need certificates from anybody to prove our patriotism," Shaheen Qureshi said.

Addressing the gathering, PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said victimisation of the press at the hands of Nawaz government had proved that it was out to demolish all institutions of the country. He said the federation was literally at risk now as the government aimed at dissipating the fourth pillar of the state. He said the politicians of the country had long been raising voice against the policies of Sharif but it was the press, which had united all of them as the press had also come under attack.

Dr Hayee Baloch of BNM assured the journalists that his party fully supported them in their struggle. Imran Khan said the government claimed it had struck a deal with the Jang Group but asked: "Even if this be true, we won't allow Sharif to hush-up the alleged tax evasion of the Jang Group because it is the people's money." Imran said ever since "this business-minded person" had entered the Prime Minister's house, he had been signing deals for personal gains.

Syed Kabir Ali Wasti, who arrived in Aabpara at the head said the government wanted to mute the press so that its misdeeds did not reach the people of Pakistan. Amirul Azim of JI said it was a pity that those who wanted to recover the so-called taxes from the Jang Group were themselves tax-evaders. Allama Zubair Zaheer quoted a Hadith to say that truth should never be hidden and that to say truth before a tyrant ruler was Jihad. Qamar Zaidi of Therik-e-Jaffaria said Senator Saifur Rahman had resorted to a 'devilish act' .

The News International Pakistan