Dawn's Islamabad bureau besieged by protesters for the second time this week

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Burnt copies of Dawn newspaper. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Burnt copies of Dawn newspaper. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Protesters burnt copies of Dawn newspaper outside  the Islamabad office on Friday. — Photo courtesy Naveed Siddiqui
Protesters burnt copies of Dawn newspaper outside the Islamabad office on Friday. — Photo courtesy Naveed Siddiqui

Protesters on Friday besieged Dawn's Islamabad bureau — the second time this week — and chanted slogans against the media group and set copies of the newspaper on fire.

Nearly 100 people who had arrived in vans gathered outside the newspaper's office. Police arrived at the scene but the protesters dispersed on their own after about 40 minutes.

"Yet another orchestrated demo against Dawn outside its office in Islamabad," tweeted Dawn Editor Zaffar Abbas. "Same lot, threatening tone, bigger in number & have blocked entrance. We have informed police & have told them it’s their duty to protect our staff & property. Let’s hope someone from govt will intervene!!"

"They have just dispersed after burning some copies of Dawn," Abbas said. "Everyone has a right to protest as long as they are not violent."

The International Press Institute (IPI), in a statement, condemned the "threatening demonstrations", saying: "Dawn is a bastion of independent journalism and Pakistan must guarantee the safety of its journalists."

The protest today took place only hours after the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights directed Islamabad police to look into the siege on Monday of Dawn's Islamabad offices.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) released a statement a few hours later "vehemently condemning" the attack.

It demanded the "arrest of the group of people who attacked, blocked the gates of Dawn Media Group and harassed employees and media workers of the organisation".

In a joint statement, PFUJ President Shehzada Zulfiqar Ali and PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said that such an attack "is a clear indication of media gagging by certain quarters".

Furthermore, they said the incident demonstrated the "failure of the present government in ensuring safety and security to media outlets and the journalist community at large".

Aurangzeb questions government's silence

Later in the night, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also issued a statement strongly condemning the "restriction on Dawn's circulation, the issuance of threats against the publication and the harassment of its employees".

She questioned the silence of the government over the matter. "Newspaper offices are being attacked and Imran Khan and his fake spokespersons are nowhere to be found."

"These attacks, harassment, and threats are clear evidence of the dictatorship and fascism of the incumbent government," she said. "Where are these hired spokespersons, who lie at every chance they get, hiding now?"

The PML-N spokesperson said this treatment of a newspaper whose foundations were laid down by Quaid-i-Azam was "shameful, condemnable and regrettable".

Aurangzeb swore that no one will be allowed to "snatch away the constitutional and democratic right of a free media" and assured the media that the opposition stands by them.

She called on the government to identify the culprits behind the attacks. "When the fascist government finds time to stop lying only then will it focus its attention on attacks, threats and harrasment of the media," remarked Aurangzeb.

"If these elements are not brought to justice, it will clearly mean that all this is at the behest of Imran Khan sahib."

Protests, threats against Dawn

A mob had staged a demonstration on Monday against the publication of a news report regarding the 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, had remained outside the office building for nearly three hours, besieging the premises and making the staffers hostage.

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”.

The siege was condemned by media bodies, journalists, lawmakers and rights groups. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visited the office the day after the protest to express solidarity with the staffers who had remained "under siege".

The protest outside the media group's Islamabad's office was also condemned by prime minister's aide Firdous Ashiq Awan two days later, when she was asked about the siege.

"[The government] will discourage such acts," she had said.

Global media watchdogs — Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) — called on Pakistani authorities to condemn the besieging of Dawn offices and to prevent demonstrations against the newspaper from turning violent.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said: “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.”