Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The work of journalists in the Kashmir and Tribal zones Pakistan remains as dangreous as ever (RSF)

Pakistan - Annual report 2006
President Pervez Musharraf alternately directed his ire on the media challenging his alliance with the United States and the investigative press that exposes corruption and abuse of power. The work of journalists in the tribal zones and Kashmir remains as dangerous as ever.
In May 2005, parliament adopted contradictory amendments to the law on electronic media. They liberalised the sector, but gave the authorities the right to seize equipment, withdraw licences, initiate investigations and to make arrests without a warrant. Any infringement of the law could mean up to three years in prison. In November police applied the law, closing Mast FM 103 radio for relaying a special programme on the earthquake from the Urdu service of the BBC World Service.
Although badly shaken by Jihadist terrorism, Pakistan has a dynamic and pluralist press. The English-language publications are freer of control than the popular Urdu newspapers. But investigative journalists are constantly targeted by military security services, which have no hesitation in harassing anyone they find troublesome. This was the case with Rashid Channa, a journalist with the daily Star, kidnapped for several hours in Karachi.
On the other hand, a special court in Quetta dropped charges in March against journalist Khawar Mehdi whom the army had held secretly and tortured for several weeks for having accompanied two French reporters to the Afghan border in 2003. Gen. Musharraf accused the journalist, who was forced into exile, of having betrayed his country for a few dollars.
Two correspondents for the foreign press were killed in the tribal zones and the murder investigation has gone nowhere. Journalists must deal both with threats from the Taliban and the surveillance and the obstruction of the military. In December, a correspondent for two national dailies was abducted in mysterious circumstances in Waziristan, after he contradicted the official version of the death of an al-Qaeda leader.
The local press operates with difficulty in Kashmir, which was shaken by a major earthquake on 8 October 2005. After largely facilitating access for hundreds of Pakistani and foreign journalists, the army in December imposed restrictions on the movement of reporters and a BBC team was sent back from a remote region.
More generally, the authorities take a dim view of investigations by foreign journalists. In August, three film-makers, two Swedes and one Briton of Afghan origin, were held for two weeks for filming near a military base. Despite a thaw in relations with India, a journalist from New Delhi was expelled in July.
Confronted by a radical press that fosters jihadism, the authorities launched a major operation in Karachi in July to shut down hate media. But searches and arrests also affected less radical journalists.


The Public Security Bureau's formal refusal on 17 May to allow detained blogger and documentary filmmaker Hao Wu access to a lawyer on national security grounds is "absurd," Reporters Without Borders said today, as Hao began his fourth month in detention."Hao's case is emblematic of the PSB's methods," the press freedom organisation said. "It is farcical to treat this blogger as a threat to national security. Is there any serious possibility that letting a prisoner of conscience have a lawyer might destabilise the Chinese government?"A formal request for Hao to be defended by a lawyer was filed with the PSB by his sister, Na Wu, who has reported on her blog (http://spaces.msn.com/wuhaofamily): "It appears that all efforts to seek legal help have reached a dead end."According to the authorities, Hao is currently under "house arrest." He cannot receive visits or telephone his family. The PSB is also still refusing to tell him why he has been arrested. But it has reportedly undertaken to make a statement to the family by August, which would be six months after his arrest.Hao had a blog called Beijing or Bust in which he wrote under the pseudonym of Beijing Loafer. He was also the North-East Asia editor of the website Global Voices, to which he contributed under the name of Tian Yi. He was arrested on 22 February while preparing a report on China's underground protestant churches.Global Voices has set up a Hao support site: http://ethanzuckerman.com/haowu