ISLAMABAD: In reaction to Dawn’s statement disclosing disruption in its distribution, journalists’ bodies, politicians and rights activists across the country have expressed concern over attempts to gag print and electronic media by way of physical intimidation, abduction and torture of dissenting journalists and blocking of news channels.

The statement issued by the newspaper’s management on Tuesday said: “The distribution of Dawn newspaper, for the past month, is witnessing daily disruptions in targeted cities and towns... hawkers and sales agents are being subjected to continued harassment, threats and physical coercion, while attempting to deliver copies of Dawn to regular subscribers.”

The management requested caretaker Prime Minister retired Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa and Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to take notice of the hostile situation.

Parliamentarians, journalist groups express outrage over attempts to gag media

In response, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia issued a statement saying: “It’s way past time for authorities in Pakistan to stop disrupting the distribution of Dawn newspaper. Shackling the media only undermines the fairness of July’s election.”

Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani was of the view that such actions went against Article 19 of the Constitution, which states “there shall be freedom of the press”.

“Such actions are a denial of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(A), the right of every citizen to have access to information in all matters of public interest,” he said on Wednesday.

“If this campaign [of intimidation] continues, the holding of free, fair and just elections, as stipulated under the Constitution, will become next to impossible. Let such forces be warned that the social and political fibre of Pakistani society and the polarisation within the federation cannot withstand an engineered election,” he warned.

The PPP stalwart said it appeared that a “hidden hand” was gradually “dismantling” the pillars of the federation in order to weaken it.

Expressing his views on Twitter, senior leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) Afrasiab Khattak said: “Silencing dissent is sure path to murder of democracy. A prestigious and independent newspaper (is) getting strangulated by fascist methods before our eyes. Judiciary, political parties and civil society aren’t taking notice. Speak, before it is too late.”

Javed Jabbar, who sits on a media commission appointed by the Supreme Court, also issued a statement in which he “strongly condemned” reported attempts to halt distribution of Dawn to its readers in various parts of the country.

Mr Jabbar, who had previously served as minister for information, said there were reports from credible sources who stated that advertisers and ad agencies, which owed large sums to certain media firms, had been telephonically advised to withhold payments in order to create difficulties.

Although, he said, he often “totally disagreed” with some of Dawn’s editorial and news policies, he stressed that the paper’s right to free and responsible expression deserved respect, not covert obstruction. “I endorse the urgent appeal made to the caretaker prime minister, the chief justice of Pakistan, and the army chief to give directions in their respective sectors to ensure immediate prevention of any coercive pressures against Dawn and other media,” Mr Jabbar said.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman called on the government to take action against reports of restrictions on media. “I firmly believe it is the right of every person to buy and read a newspaper of their choice, and any attempt to forcibly deny citizens’ access to it is a categorical violation of Article 19 of the Constitution,” she tweeted.

In a statement issued from Lahore, spokesperson for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and former federal information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “Free press is a fundamental pillar of mature democracies and civilised societies. The PML-N’s manifesto is firmly committed to independent journalism and freedom of expression.”

The former minister stressed that impediments in the way of free journalism and acts of violence against journalists were unacceptable.

PML-N Senator and former information minister Mushahid Hussain Sayed posted a tweet saying: “Dawn, founded by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a newspaper which was a vanguard of freedom movement, is now under pressure for not speaking the ‘officially certified truth’. Salute to its brave CEO Hameed Haroon and (the) Editor for standing up for Article 19 of the Constitution.”

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018