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Pakistan to investigate press intimidation


Islamabad : Pakistan's Supreme Court Thursday said it will probe recent incidents of harassment of journalists by state authorities and political groups as well as apparent warnings in the form of threatening phone calls and bullets left for reporters.

The decision was taken after journalists' groups filed an application over threats received during coverage of the government standoff with the country's suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

"Threats and incidents of intimidation became a routine feature in recent days and they affect freedom of speech and expression as well as personal security as enshrined in the constitution," Syed Muzammil Hussain, President of the Press Association of the Supreme Court, said in the application.

Screws are being tightened on local media as the political crisis deepens over President Pervez Musharraf's controversial removal of Chaudhry on March 9 over allegations of misuse of office.

In the most extreme example, offices of the private Aaj news channel came under siege by gunmen for four hours in Karachi on May 12, when more than 40 people were killed in political violence between supporters of the president and the judge.

Three cameramen were injured and had their equipment snatched at gunpoint while a reporter and cameraman were taken hostage on the same day.

A wing of a pro-Musharraf party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is mainly blamed for the killings, last week publicly named a dozen journalists with national and international media as "enemies."

Two of them and one other journalist found bullets in envelopes placed in their cars on Tuesday.

Several TV news channels have also experienced blockage of transmission by the government during coverage of occurrences related to Chaudhry's removal.

Musharraf said Wednesday that the authorities did not intend to impose curbs on "free flow of information," but warned in the same breath that media should avoid "unbalanced reporting."

Pakistan is ranked as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Last year the country topped the list in South Asia for the number of abductions, disappearances and killings of media workers.