International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the disruption in distribution of Pakistan’s oldest newspaper Dawn after it published an interview suggesting that Pakistani militants were behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The comments by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif sparked a firestorm at home and in India. Sharif approached what is seen as a red line in the country by touching on criticism of Pakistan’s armed forces, especially their alleged use of proxies in India.
RSF said distribution of the country’s leading English-language newspaper had been restricted in much of the country. “The interview, which reportedly displeased the Pakistani military, appeared in the May 12 issue and the blocking began on May 15. According to RSF’s information, distribution is being disrupted in most of Balochistan province, in many cities in Sindh province and in all military cantonments,” said a statement issued on Friday.
The Press Council of Pakistan had notified Dawn’s editor that the newspaper breached the ethical code by publishing content that “may bring into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country,” the watchdog said. “The unwarranted blocking of the distribution of one of the main independent newspapers has yet again shown that the military are determined to maintain their grip on access to news and information in Pakistan,” RSF alleged.
“It is clear that the military high command does not want to allow a democratic debate in the months preceding a general election. We call on the authorities to stop interfering in the dissemination of independent media and to restore distribution of Dawn throughout Pakistan,” it added.
The 2008 Mumbai attacks killed 166 people. Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba stands accused of masterminding them. India has long said there is evidence that “official agencies” in Pakistan were involved but Islamabad denies the charge.
Since being ousted by the Supreme Court last July, Sharif and his supporters have repeatedly suggested they are the victims of a conspiracy driven by the military and the courts. According to RSF, last month the military was said to have given unofficial instructions to cable TV operators to stop carrying the Geo TV network’s channels, including Geo News, in most of the country. One reason was the airtime that it had dedicated to Sharif.