Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pakistan: Pakistan bans TV channel amid increased attempts to control freedom of expression

Source: Amnesty

A politically motivated ban imposed on a Pakistani TV channel critical of the government constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) today suspended transmissions of private network ARY TV for 15 days. It has been accused of ostensibly “maligning” the country’s judiciary after it aired an interview with a man currently the subject of a high-profile trial before the Lahore High Court.

“ARY TV must be immediately allowed back on air. There is simply no justification for the Pakistani authorities to silence sections of the media solely because of their political leanings,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International.

“The ban on ARY is a sobering reminder of the threat of criminal prosecution on the basis of overly broad contempt of court or anti-state provisions. Journalists in Pakistan are under attack from all sides, facing harassment, even abduction and killings for carrying out their work.”

The decision and trial come against the background of an increasingly confrontational political tussle between the elected government, the military and some opposition political groups.

In June PEMRA suspended Geo TV, one of the country’s major TV networks and ARY’s main competitor, for 15 days – reportedly under pressure from the military – after the channel accused a senior intelligence official of orchestrating the attempted killing of one of its journalists.

Although Geo TV is now back on air its distribution has been significantly restricted. Many of its staff have complained of harassment and attacks from unknown individuals they believe are security officials, as well as members of the public angered at its perceived anti-military bias.

“Journalism is an incredibly dangerous profession in Pakistan. Instead of trying to control what journalists say, the Pakistani authorities should do more to protect them so they can carry out their legitimate work,” said Mustafa Qadri.