Pakistan's English-language newspapers for sale in Karachi | Rizwan Tabassum/Getty Images
Pakistan's newspapers for sale in Karachi | Rizwan Tabassum/Getty Images
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The Dawn management, in an editorial two days ago, said the distribution of the paper has been “witnessing daily disruptions in targeted cities and towns across Pakistan”.

New Delhi: Dawn, the newspaper founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Delhi, is being subjected to a campaign of “harassment, threats and coercion”, leading to the muzzling of the freedom of press in Pakistan in the run-up to the 25 July elections and putting “democracy in danger”.

In an editorial Wednesday that has since been widely amplified by several politicians — including former Senate chairman and PML-N leader Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan People’s Party and Mushahid Hussain of the PMLN-Q — the Dawn management said the distribution of the paper for the past several months is “witnessing daily disruptions in targeted cities and towns across Pakistan.

Hawkers and sales agents are being subjected to continued harassment, threats and physical coercion, while attempting to deliver copies of Dawn to our regular subscribers.

“Newspaper vans and hawkers, distributing copies of Dawn, have already been denied entry to many cantonment areas for the past several months. Since the middle of May, however, officials posted in several cities and towns in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan are disallowing the distribution of Dawn to even civilians residing in several areas,” the Dawn statement said.

In the video tweeted by Hussain, Dawn’s CEO Hameed Haroon can be seen saying that these attacks are not coming from the prime minister or his government “but unfortunately the modern state is a complex of many institutions.”

The statement clearly implies the involvement of military, but doesn’t directly attack it. “These are not silent attacks but blatant attacks on the freedom of press,” Hameed Haroon adds.

Dawn writes to caretaker PM, army chief

The management appealed to caretaker Prime Minister retired Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa and the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to take notice of the “hostile” situation.

Any move to forcibly deny readers access to any newspaper is violation of Article 19 of Constitution, which says that “there shall be freedom of the press”, the statement said.

Pakistan is certainly not new to censorship, self-censorship and severe media restrictions. During the martial law-era of Gen. Zia ul-Haq (from 1977-1988, when he was killed in an aircrash), journalists who refused to fall in line were often beaten with chains and thrown into cobwebbed corners of jails.

History of censorship

The onslaught on press freedom during General Ayub’s era, called the Press and Publication Ordinance 1960, is sometimes labelled the blackest law in the history of press in Pakistan.

The elections on 25 July will make history, because this is the first time that two consecutive elected governments are handing over power. Pakistan’s never-say-die political spirit is one of the most interesting processes of our times.

This spirit is now being battered into shape to present a situation that will be acceptable to the military establishment – read, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf party. Imran is seen to be the darling of the “miltestablishment,” says Friday Times editor Najam Sethi who is no stranger to the inside of a prison. Imran Khan is certainly the front-runner in the run-up to the polls, which is why his former wife’s tell-all memoirs are such a rage these days.

That is why the epithet of a “soft coup” is in such vogue. The military establishment will never take direct power, because the people will not tolerate it, but it will control the levers of power, from behind a thick purdah.

Sometimes the purdah parts, revealing the hand behind which controls large parts of the media.

Some newspapers such as Dawn are refusing to give up.

Personal attacks

Some TV anchors, like Mubashir Luqman, want to descend to new depths, by trolling the personal tragedies of people they don’t like:

Luqman was referring to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose wife Kulsoom is battling cancer in a London hospital. Sharif, who has often flirted with the army in his former incarnations as prime minister but was infamously overthrown by Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and kept Attock jail, has been in the crosshairs of the army since he was returned to power five years ago.

Certainly, many believe Sharif was ousted by the military establishment because he refused to fall in line.

So when Sharif recently told Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida that the men who stormed Mumbai in 2008 may have had connections with the Pakistani state, a media uproar ensued.

A critical book on Kargil written by journalist Nasim Zehra, was released with much fanfare about the same time that Almeida’s story came out. Perhaps the military establishment was willing to tolerate a 20-year look-back in disapproval.

Dawn refused to publish report by own columnist

Only last week, it seemed that Dawn was trying to compromise with the military, when it refused to publish a piece by its own columnist and political economist S. Akbar Zaidi, called ‘The end of democracy or a new resurgence in Pakistan?’ The article was finally published in India’s Economic & Political Weekly.

Organisations like the International Press Institute (IPI) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia have condemned the intimidation of the newspaper and the use of coercive measures to curtail press freedom.

“These actions deprive the public of a fundamental right to receive news and information and to participate in informed debate about matters of public interest, in particular the military’s role in civilian affairs,” IPI executive director Barbara Trionfi said.

On its part, Dawn seems determined to speak up. It insists it is only doing its job, which is to inform its reading public, without fear or favour, about the situation in Jinnah’s Pakistan.

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