ISLAMABAD: A second orchestrated demonstration was held outside Dawn bureau in the federal capital and the protesters not only besieged the office but also burned copies of the newspaper and announced holding another round of protest.
Around 100 people arrived in vans from various parts of twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and gathered outside the fire brigade headquarters, a few hundred metres from the newspaper’s office. Raising slogans against the newspaper, the protesters marched on the main road and later gathered at the entrance to the Dawn office.
In their charged speeches, the protesters decried the story published in Dawn on Dec 1 regarding the Pakistani origins of London Bridge attacker Usman Khan, who stabbed and killed two persons last week.
The protest was organised by an unknown organisation; however, most of the participants were small businessmen of Islamabad, including property dealers, slum dwellers and daily wagers. Most of the speakers declined to identify themselves, but one of them, Basharat Khokhar, director of Peace World — a non-governmental organisation — said Dawn should not have written unnecessary details about the London attack.
Protest takes place hours after Senate body’s directive for newspaper’s security; PFUJ, PML-N condemn attack
The charged mob, carrying banners and chanting slogans against the newspaper, remained outside the bureau office for nearly three hours, besieging the premises and making the staffers hostage. Incidentally, most of the protesters, when asked, were unaware about the story related to Usman Khan or even that his body had arrived in federal capital, and was being taken to their family village in Kotli. The protesters burned copies of Dawn and effigy of the newspaper’s chief executive.
After delivering fiery speeches, the protesters dispersed peacefully as police arrived at the scene and, unlike the previous protest held on Dec 2, the participants this time did not raise slogans praising any state institution.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ-Barna) condemned the second attack on Dawn bureau and demanded the arrest of the people who blocked the entrance to the office and harassed journalists, employees and workers of the newspaper.
In a statement, PFUJ-Barna president Shehzada Zulfiqar Ali and secretary general Nasir Zaidi said the attack was a clear indication of media gagging by certain quarters and failure of the present government to ensure safety and security of media outlets and journalists.
The protest took place hours after a parliamentary body directed the Islamabad police and the deputy commissioner to provide security to Dawn and ensure police presence outside its office. However, the protesters arrived before the directives could be executed.
“Any unfortunate incident against the publication will send a wrong message with regard to freedom of expression and media in Pakistan and become embarrassing for the country internationally,” said chairman of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar.
The committee took notice of the protest held outside Dawn bureau on Monday. It acknowledged the perception that there are efforts under way to suppress freedom of expression.
“Media houses are being forced to censor content,” Mr Khokhar regretted, adding that he believed that Pakistan is in spotlight internationally after the curbs on freedom of expression and media. He said the capital administration should look into the matter seriously.
Former senator Farhatullah Babar, who was specially invited to the meeting by the committee chairman, drew its attention to a tweet in which a federal minister had referred to the publication as anti-Pakistan in reference to the news story.
“While demonstrating was the right of the people, the protesters linked themselves with an intelligence agency when they chanted slogans in its favour. The government did not condemn this action. The respected intelligence agency did not dissociate itself from the protesters either,” Mr Babar said, adding that it was still not clear who the protesters were while police did not investigate the mob attack on the newspaper’s office.
“Dawn newspaper continues to be victimised by the present administration. The noose is tightening around the Dawn group since the time the publication printed news that the army is engaged in over 50 commercial businesses, and then especially after the Dawn leaks incident,” Mr Babar said.
Given the broad issue of suppression of free media, he suggested to the committee chairman to refer the matter to the Senate Committee on Information.
“Clearly, it is the narrative of this government to take away freedom of media. Dawn is probably the most responsible media house. The government should have gone to court if it had a bone to pick with the publication. This was not a demonstration but more of a pressure tactic to suppress free press,” said Senator Usman Kakar.
Describing Dawn as light in darkness, he urged the newspaper to continue fair reporting for the supremacy of parliament, respect of democratic institutions and freedom of the media. “This [attack on Dawn bureau office] is a case of terrorism and legal action should be taken against the protesters,” Mr Kakar said.
Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told the meeting that police had not received any application for legal action or registering an FIR in this case. He said the demonstrators were non-violent and chanting slogans only. The demonstration was random and the protesters were people from different walks of life who were hurt by the news published in Dawn.
Meanwhile, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said in Lahore that undeclared ban, besieging and attacks on Dawn media group were a consequence of the “inciting autocratic and fascist rhetoric and approach of the PTI regime”.
Condemning the persecution of the news organisation, she criticised the government’s spokespersons for being totally missing in action as they did not utter a single word. Calling for unmasking these individuals, she said if the perpetrators were not brought to justice, it would prove that all such acts of fascist hooliganism to suppress freedom of the press were done at the behest of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan”.
Ms Aurangzeb pledged absolute support to all media organisations and Dawn media group in particular for their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019