PAKISTAN: AHRC condemns the death threats to Karachi journalists and calls for inquiries
On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, three senior journalists received death threats in the city of Karachi, Sindh province. Envelopes containing live bullets were found attached to the drivers side of the windscreen on two cars. In a third, a bullet was found on the drivers seat.
The journalists who received the first bullets are, Mr. Mazhar Abbas, Secretary General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and correspondent of the French news agency AFP, Mr. Zarrar Khan, a correspondent of the USA news agency AP and a photographer, Asif of AFP. The names of the three correspondents were included in a list of 18 threatened journalists which was issued last week by an organisation called the Muhajir Rabita Council (MRC), allegedly a sister organisation of Mutehda Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner the government of President Musharraf. The list declared 18 journalists as the chauvinists and threatened them to change their reported views against general Musharraf and the chief of MQM, Mr. Altaf Hussian. The list appeared after the mayhem of May 12, 2007 in Karachi in which more than 50 persons were killed during the visit of suspended Chief Justice Mr. Iftekhar Choudary.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly condemns the death threats against the journalists as an alleged effort of the government and its coalition partners to curb the freedom of media and a blatant act of intimidation. Putting the live bullets in the cars, wrapped in envelops is a clear threat that in the near future the recipients will be targeted through bullets. The making of death threats is a serious act in itself whether or not they are intended to be carried out. The AHRC further demands that the perpetrators of the threats be brought to justice, the journalists be provided with protection and that the government should take action against the organisation, the MRC, which issued the list of 18 journalists that they declared to be chauvinists.
Freedom of expression and publication are the most fundamental freedoms. These are not just the freedom of journalists but the peoples right to information can only be realised through the freedom available to journalists, publishers and other to present information to the people. Information is the basis of understanding and proper relationships within society. Suppression of information benefits only persons who are corrupt and those who abuse power. The attempt to intimidate the journalists can only be the work of those who are bent on benefiting from corruption and abuse of power.
Pakistan is now facing critical times and as one leading lawyer has put it, defining times. What is at stake is the defense of the very fundamental elements of a society based on democracy and rule of law. The fight that it being fought now is to defend the separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, checks and balances and constitutional governance. Freedom of expression, freedom of publication and freedom of association are also very integral parts of the defense of constitutional governance. In fact, in the United States the first amendment to the constitution which is on freedom of expression is given pride of place. The military government that has been portrayed as defenders of democracy is in fact undermining this most basic element of a democratic society. The duty of a government is to defend and to protect the freedom of expression and thereby to maintain a climate of sanity within society. The inflaming of violence results in creating an insane society. The present attacks on the journalists only contribute to this same social insanity. The people who are now fighting to protect their fundamental freedoms must make it a common cause to defend freedom of expression and those who exercise this freedom such as the journalists concerned.