News

December 3, 2019

Pakistan: Pro-government activists besiege Dawn building in Islamabad

A photo taken from the Dawn building by a member of the newspaper’s staff, who were trapped inside for three hours (photo: Pervez Banbhan - Dawn.com).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Pakistani authorities to issue a public and unequivocal condemnation of last night’s siege of the Islamabad headquarters of Pakistan’s oldest English-language daily, Dawn, by an angry crowd of demonstrators calling for it to be banned on completely spurious grounds.

The entrance to the building that houses the newspaper and its sister TV channel, Dawn TV, was occupied by the protesters, who prevented anyone from entering or exiting, threatened any employees who tried to enter, and demanded written apologies for Dawn’s purported offence.

 

The motive for the protest was an article in Dawn about the London Bridge attack in the United Kingdom on 30 November in which three people were killed including the man who murdered the other two. Quoting the London Daily Telegraph, Dawn identified the killer as “a British citizen born in the UK and of Pakistani origin.”

 

This simple, widely verified piece of information was regarded by the protesters as an insult to Pakistan and, to judge by their chants, grounds for demanding that Dawn be banned outright. After more than three hours, and long negotiations, the newspaper’s management managed to get the crowd to disperse, but not without being threatened and warned. The police did not intervene.

 

“This show of force, which was clearly orchestrated, constitutes yet another absolutely unacceptable act of intimidation towards Pakistan’s leading daily,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“The information we have obtained indicates that the federal government was, at the very least a passive accomplice if not the actual instigator of behaviour that is unacceptable in a democracy. We call on Prime Minister Imran Khan to publicly condemn these excesses, failing which he will be held personally responsible for this alarming press freedom violation.”

 

Incitement to violence

 

Fare from being spontaneous, the siege was the result of a series of ambiguous tweets by leading figures close to the ruling party and government.

 

Science and technology minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, for example, told Dawn in a tweet that he was “shocked on your cheap attempt to link a British terrorist to Pakistan,” while human rights minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that “Dawn has its own agenda.” The ambiguity of this phrase alone sufficed to elicit calls from thousands of trolls for Dawn to be attacked and ransacked.

 

Dawn has been subjected to repeated acts of harassment by members of the ruling Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI) ever since one of its former journalists, Cyril Almeida, wrote an exclusive article in 2016 about the links between civilians and military at the highest levels of the Pakistani state.

 

Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2010 World Press Freedom Index.