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Issue No 16, Nov 4-10, 2002 | ISSN:1684-2075 | satribune.com

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Daily Nation's Editorial on Nov 5 "Odd Ad" questions the Govt Move

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres issues Strong Statement on Nov 5

Official Ads Placed in Pakistani Media Against South Asia Tribune

Special SAT Report

ISLAMABAD: Almost all major Pakistani newspapers, published in English, Urdu and even Sindhi languages, carried an official advertisement on Nov 2 warning the media against reprinting stories and articles published by the South Asia Tribune.

In a strange move which amounted almost to imposing a pre-censorship on newspapers, the Information Ministry described everything published in the SA Tribune as "concoctions and fabrications targeted to malign the Government of Pakistan."

Without pointing at any particular story or article, most of which are well documented and with corroborating evidence posted on the newspaper site, the Government of Pakistan advertisement objected to reproduction of these stories in mainstream Pakistani newspapers.

"Some newspapers and periodicals in Pakistan are reproducing stories and reports placed on a website originating from outside the country... The contents are defmatory, slanderous and libelous. The author is a self-exiled Pakistani with an agenda all his own," the Ad PID (1) 4452/02 printed in Daily 'Jang', 'The News', 'The Nation', Daily 'Ibrat' (Sindhi) and many other newspapers on Nov 2, 2002.

"The source of his inspiration to launch a defamatory campaign against the Government of Pakistan and its functionaries is known to media circles in Pakistan," the Ad continued. "They are, therefore, requested to refrain from reporting such concoctions and fabrications in their media unless they can substantiate the contents."

The Ad ended on this note of warning: "Reproducing defamatory and libelous material can attract provisions of the law against defamation."

Interestingly the ads in English, Urdu and Sindhi did not formally mention the name of the Advertiser, as is always obligatory in such government ads issued by the Press Information Department (PID) of the Information Ministry in Islamabad.

Responding to the ads campaign, Editor of the South Asia Tribune, Shaheen Sehbai said in Washington it was a crude attempt by the military regime's ill-informed and ill-advised leaders to intimidate the local Press which found most of the reports and exposes of SA Tribune credible and fully substantiated by documentary evidence.

"This appears to be the work of an amateur mind. By placing these ads in all leading newspapers the Government has given tremendous publicity to the South Asia Tribune and thus helped increase its readership manifold. We can only say 'Thank You' to these advisers and officials of General Musharraf."

Sehbai said the ads had been placed after repeated personal attempts by senior most officials of the Information Ministry to stop the local media from using and reprinting SA Tribune reports. "They cannot force the media to censor itself as all reports in the SA Tribnune carry full evidence in shape of government documents, summaries and reports. In view of such convincing substantiation, how can any professional newspaper ignore a major scandal or a breaking story," Sehbai said.

The hesitation to own the ads by not giving out the name of the sponsoring Ministry or Department also reflected the fact that the Information Ministry bosses were acting in panic and almost apologetically, without knowing what they were doing.

Sehbai strongly refuted the allegations that he had any personal agenda. "My agenda is that of every investigative newspaper and journalist. It is to expose all corruption and wrong-doings of this unconstitutional military government, as I have been doing for the past 30 years, in all governments and under all circumstances. We have tried to be as professional and objective as possible in reporting the corruption scandals of the Musharraf Government, most of which are now being confirmed and reproduced by the local media and the political parties."

It may be recalled that recently two references were filed against two corrupt ministers of the Musharraf Government by two major political parties, the PPP and PML-N, based on reports published in the South Asia Tribune.

The PML-N filed its reference with the National Accountability Bureau against Communications and Railways Minister and ex-ISI Chief Javed Ashraf Qazi, accusing him of gobbling up billions of rupees in Railway lands, petrol pump contracts and a Rs 25 billion Golf Course in Lahore. Click here to see latest on this controversy The Minister reacted against the Information Secretary of PML-N, Siddiq ul Farooq, by publicly threatening him on ARY TV Channel one day. The next day he was picked up by ISI goons, given a thorough beating and abandoned in a forest 40 miles from Islamabad. Again a day later the arrogant minister spoke on BBC Urdu Service and used abusive and unbecoming language against the PML-N official Click here to hear BBC Interview (Real Player Needed)

The second reference was filed by the Pakistan People's Party against Agriculture Minister Khair Mohammed Junejo who was accused of corruption of millions of dollars in awarding deep sea fishing contracts to black listed companies. The Pakistan Navy had originally filed a report against the award of these contracts by Minister Junejo and General Musharraf's Adviser M. Shafi Niaz had written a strong letter pointing to the corruption. But all this was ignored by General Musharraf. Click Here to Read Reference Report

The solid evidence produced by South Asia Tribune has thus landed at least two ministers in trouble while scandals involving the father in law of Bilal, General Musharraf's son, in which he had taken a two per cent commission in the Peshawar-Rawalpindi Motorway have also been confirmed. This apparently has unnerved the Government to the extent that they have now started publicly warning other newspapers.

The ads come amid the continuing and shameless persecution of members of the Sehbai family. Sehbai's brother-in-law Mansoor is in Rawalpindi jail for over two weeks after being denied bail by a judge in a totally fake case. Another cousin's son, Imran, was released from jail after 48 days but only after the brother in law had been arrested.

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