Global media watchdogs — Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) — have called on Pakistani authorities to condemn the besieging of Dawn offices in Islamabad and to prevent demonstrations against the newspaper from turning violent.
A few dozen unidentified people on Monday had staged a protest outside Dawn offices in the capital over the publication of a news report regarding the Pakistani origins of the London Bridge attacker who stabbed two persons to death last week.
The charged mob, carrying banners and chanting slogans against the newspaper, remained outside the office building for nearly three hours, besieging the premises and making the staffers hostage. Security guards at the media house had to lock the gates to prevent the protesters from entering the premises before police and officers of the capital administration arrived.
A day later, dozens of people staged a protest outside Karachi Press Club against Dawn and made threats against its staffers. They also threatened to besiege the offices of the media group if “prompt action was not taken against the management and outlets of the organisation for publishing false news.”
“Pakistanis have every right to object to and demonstrate against the Dawn newspaper over its coverage, but threatening violence steps way over the line,” said Kathleen Carroll, CPJ’s board chair, in a statement issued on Tuesday. “We call on Pakistani authorities to take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of Dawn’s staff.”
Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, also condemned the incident, saying: “This show of force constitutes yet another absolutely unacceptable act of intimidation towards Pakistan’s leading daily.”
“The information we have obtained indicates that the federal government was, at the very least, a passive accomplice if not the actual instigator of behaviour that is unacceptable in a democracy," said the RSF statement. "We call on Prime Minister Imran Khan to publicly condemn these excesses, failing which he will be held personally responsible for this alarming press freedom violation.”
The statement by RSF also mentioned the tweets by two federal ministers — Fawad Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari — who on Sunday had criticised the Dawn report.
The International Press Institute (IPI), in a tweet posted on Wednesday, said it was "appalled at the serious threats against Dawn in Pakistan, specifically targetting its CEO and its editor".
"It is even more disturbing as they appear to have been driven by government ministers’ and ruling party leaders’ vocal criticism of the newspaper coverage," IPI said further.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday visited Dawn offices in Islamabad to express solidarity with its staffers and condemned besieging of the Dawn offices, saying it was an attempt to pressuring the media.
“Media organisations are being threatened but we will not allow anyone to curb freedom of press,” Bilawal had said. “It is a black day in the history of the country that Dawn offices have been attacked in the capital in such a manner.”
Chairman of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Kokhar also took notice of the besieging of Dawn and directed the inspector general of police Islamabad to submit a report on the issue to the committee by December 6.
PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb called for a high-level investigation into the incident to identify and punish the perpetrators. “Such actions are unacceptable in any civilised society,” she said, pledging that the people, politicians and media will join hands in the fight against such elements.
National Party (NP) Punjab president Ayub Malik had termed it as an “attack on media freedom”.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors, All-Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation, Media Workers Organisation and National Press Club also condemned the incident.