THE word ‘unprecedented’ is often used in reference to the oppressive tactics being used against the media in this country for the past couple of years. On Monday morning, the authorities breached yet another convention, with the Sindh Rangers conducting a raid on the Karachi Press Club. Upon being questioned, they declared they were conducting ‘full dress rehearsals’ in preparation for a threat alert in the ‘Red Zone’, within which the KPC is also located. No permission was sought from the press club authorities for the exercise. Why did the Sindh Rangers consider themselves entitled to barge into a location that is a hub of journalists in Karachi, indeed a symbol of the freedom of the press? Given the demonisation — not to mention abduction — of ‘recalcitrant’ journalists and the micro-management of the news agenda and its presentation by powerful forces behind the scenes, one can reasonably assume this latest provocation to be yet another attempt to bring the media to heel. Surely the Sindh Rangers would not have conducted such a ‘rehearsal’ unannounced on the premises of the elite Sind Club in the same area?
The incident is reminiscent of events on the night of Nov 8, 2018, when several gunmen in plainclothes had forcibly entered the KPC, harassed the journalists present and searched the premises. It was later claimed that the raid was carried out by CTD personnel in order to arrest a journalist for possession of anti-state and hate literature, and that they had mistakenly ended up at the KPC — a very well-known location — due to “some problem in their GSM locator”. The individual concerned, Nasrullah Khan Chaudhry, was taken into custody the next day and subsequently sentenced to five years in jail by an anti-terrorism court. In April, the Sindh High Court acquitted him. The entire case is symptomatic of the ordeal that the media is being made to suffer, and which was once again in evidence with the Rangers’ raid. The media, or at least some less pliable sections of it, is being painted as inherently suspicious and unworthy of the protections due to it. Even during Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime, the KPC was considered out of bounds for law-enforcement personnel. It says much when the media feels more beleaguered under an ostensibly democratic system than during a military dictatorship. Ultimately, it redounds on the government that it is unable or unwilling to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020